A Canadian organization is providing free virtual therapy for post-secondary students across the Greater Toronto Area.
Launched in 2019, Get A-Head is described as a first-of-its-kind platform focusing on both the training of future mental health professionals and the cost-effective delivery of mental health therapy.
“For the third year in a row, three out of four post-secondary students reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” a 2022 report by The New Abnormal: Student Mental Health Two Years Into COVID-19 says.
“The majority of respondents reported that the pandemic has either worsened their pre-existing mental health challenges (74 per cent) or created new mental health struggles (61 per cent),” the study continued.
Ahad Bandealy, founder of Get A-Head, spoke to Now Toronto about how exactly the program works.
“The platform is unique in that it uses AI-powered Natural Language Processing to analyze patients’ linguistic patterns and word usage, and develops qualitative insights on rapport, authenticity, and cognitive processing from each session,” Bandealy said. “These insights are used by accredited professionals and practitioners-in-training to develop better metrics for success and tailor their approaches based on each person’s unique needs.”
This advanced technology allows students to match with a mental health care provider catered to their preferences. This means students are able to speak with a professional who understands their culture, geography or linguistic needs. Students can also access as many sessions needed to improve or help their mental health.
READ MORE: Over 90% of Ontario schools say support is needed for students’ mental health: survey
Bandealy says he was inspired to create this program after discovering some major inefficiencies within the clinical system that was training him when he was pursuing his PhD at the University of Toronto in 2009.
“Practitioners demand outpaced supply, training was costly and time-consuming, and there was an overall failure to provide objective data regarding people’s mental health,” he explained.
Following these observations, he made the decision to pause his studies and work on a solution that could offer better care to patients while simultaneously prioritizing the critical training hours mental health professionals require. This led to the inception of Get A-Head.
Currently, the organization has given over 40,000 free therapy sessions to students since the beginning of the 2022/2023 academic year and has users from 34 post-secondary institutions in Ontario. Bandealy says the reason they were able to offer mental health support at no cost is because of a funding agreement with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
As to what’s to come, the organization’s goal is to expand its program beyond Ontario, both across Canada and the United States. It is also looking to add new language capabilities to Get A-Head’s system, work with other at-risk populations, and partner with employee benefits programs in Canada to make its platform more accessible.
To sign up for the Get A-Head program, Ontario students can register with their school email online.