Stella’s Place providing vital mental health supports at newer Alexandra Park location

Stella's Place settled into its new space in Alexandra Park early in 2023, but for a decade it has provided mental health supports and services to people between 16 and 29 years old. Nick Westoll has more on the Toronto organization.

Stella’s Place has been working to provide mental health supports to youth and young adults for the last decade in Toronto, and since moving to Wolseley Street in March the organization has made a big impact on the community.

The newer space is modern and open and as executive director Nzinga Walker noted when CityNews visited the facility before it opened to the public for the day, it was largely designed by its visitors.

“They’ve really helped us to create a space where they felt this is going to respond to their needs and make them feel very comfortable and at home,” Walker said.

The space is twice as big as the former office on Camden Street, which has allowed them to expand their services in addition to counselling.

“At Alexandra Park, we have different partnerships with various agencies … we do have our programming like [dialectical behaviour therapy], social anxiety program,” Walker explained.

“We also have a peer support program. We try to have our fitness program also for young adults. And we have a number of different services where people can just come and engage.”

Within the office, there’s also a café and a food bank along with classes offered to visitors.

“We also have a cook here that really teaches them about how they can transfer those grocery items into nutritional meals,” she added.

When someone walks in, coordinators like Emmie Stafford help connect people with supports.

“The largest barriers … in general there [are] a lack of free mental health services that [are] accessible and someone can become quickly connected to,” Stafford said.

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“Another barrier I can think about is a lack of information in terms of how to be connected to a service.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic and coming out it, Stella’s Place staff said younger people are looking for a mix of online and in-person services.

“There was such a demand during the lockdown that we quickly had to retrain our staff how to deliver services virtually,” Walker said.

“We have found that because of this, the demographic that we serve, many of them are very tech-savvy … they just wanted the service to be continuous.”

Another mission for many here is to counter the mental health misconceptions younger people face.

“Sometimes we look at some of the early onset symptom that folks are manifesting and youth are put in a position where they’re really pressured and folks may be using word(s) like, ‘They’re lazy,’ or they’re just confrontational … when sometimes this is about folks just really struggling to make sense of their world,” Walker explained.

As Stella’s Place heads into its next decade, Walker said they hope there will be major inroads when it comes to treating mental health as equally as physical health.

“We really want to be able to be one of the changemakers in having mental health challenges be just destigmatized where folks are able to speak openly about the experiences that they’re having,” she said.

“From a government perspective, beginning to have the same support and resources available.

“For … the vast majority of folks who are experiencing a mental health challenge, you’re going to be sitting on a waitlist for tremendous, long time.”

With files from Meredith Bond

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