Charity fills low-cost therapy gap for students in Downtown Yonge East

Hard Feelings is new to the Downtown Yonge East neighbourhood and has begun surveying to identify gaps in mental health aid. Its goal is to support local families and students with its low-cost counselling and programming.

By Julia Jenkins Lawrence, Amanda Seraphina, and Anita Li, The Green Line

A charity in Downtown Yonge East is working to make counselling and therapy more accessible, especially in a neighbourhood dominated by students.

The direct and surrounding area, which houses universities and colleges, is one of the reasons why Hard Feelings chose it for its storefront.

With studying can come mental health struggles and the organization provides low-cost counselling so clients can get support without breaking the bank. They are also working to help a new generation embrace therapy.

“We wanted to be this street-level presence where anybody can come and walk in and have those conversations and see that counsellors and other people here to help are just like regular people like me and that we’re happy to have these conversations and that there’s nothing wrong with having those conversations,” said Taima Humbert, the store manager.

In February, Hard Feelings moved from its original location at Bloor and Ossington Streets to Church and Gerrard Streets where over half of the neighbourhood population is between 15 and 39 years old.

Since opening the team’s conducted community surveys through Instagram, storefront QR codes and pop-ups. They want to identify local gaps in mental health coverage for these Gen Z and millennial Torontonians.

Taima Humbert, store manager of hard feelings stands in front of the bookshelf. Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

“What they’re looking for is really a place to get away, get away from busyness, get away from the typical places where you might go to study,’ said Martin Seal, volunteer and community engagement lead. “And we’re something sort of in between. And really what that allows us to do is sort of open up those conversations around mental health.”

A big part of Hard Feelings’ work is connecting Torontonians who seek mental health support to resources and to each other.

Last month, the charity hosted a pop-up to attract passersby into the space. The team gave tips on how to navigate the available resources, while vendors shared stories about their mental health struggles and positive pathways forward.

Martin Seal, volunteer and community engagement lead of Hard Feelings stands in the middle of the storefront. Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line

“Caring for your mental health and building stronger mental health comes in many different aspects and sometimes it comes from engaging with peers. So that’s why I wanted to invite the vendors, because each of them had an aspect of their mental health journey, either in their products or like in their own practices,” said Judy Snagg, store and social media assistant.

Judy Snagg, store and social media assistant of Hard Feelings stands in front hard feelings’ emotions wheel. Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

Executive Director Kate Scowen previously worked at TMU’s counselling centre so she was familiar with the mental health needs of the neighbourhood’s young population.

“In many ways, it becomes kind of free for them because we can build directly most of the counsellors, but they have more capacity. So it made sense that we were able to expand our rates a little bit to kind of make that work for our counsellors and clients as well,” said Scowen.

Kate Scowen, executive director of Hard Feelings stands outside in front of storefront. Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

Students often have limited health insurance from their post-secondary institutions and with Hard Feelings, their sessions are basically a low-cost or free option with shorter wait times than other cheaper traditional therapy options.

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