By: Emily Plunkett

The world of the student is stressful. Workload, financial strain, even interaction with fellow classmates can lead to emotional upheaval; but when times get especially difficult, students can be comforted in knowing Barb McDougall and the team behind the Ottawa Distress Centre are there to help.

The centre provides a free and confidential active listening service, essential to suicide prevention, crisis intervention and countless other mental health issues facing the citizens of Ottawa. McDougall, a professor of radio broadcasting and communication management at Algonquin, was appointed as president of the board of directors in June 2012.

McDougall said she became involved with the organization about seven years ago, after volunteering for a fundraiser. “From that, I decided to apply to be on the board of directors, and became a board director,” she said. She leads the directors in discussions on how to advance the centre’s operations to better suit the needs of the community.

McDougall’s_inspiration to become involved with the centre stemmed from her own family experience with suicide.

“I had two cousins commit suicide,” she said. “The last one was only two years ago. It really hits you hard when it happens to your family. Especially with me, working with the Distress Centre, thinking ‘Did you not know there was a place that you could call and get some help?’

“Certainly that was really an eye opener as far as knowing the distress centres are out there, maybe people may not realize they’re there or may not feel like that’s the place they need to go,” said McDougall.

The Ottawa Distress Centre services an area extending from Prescott and Russell to the southern Ontario counties of Grey and Bruce, as well as into Gatineau, the Outaouais and Pontiac in Quebec. McDougall explained that a total of 59 hours is required for volunteer training in order to become a Crisis Line specialist, so that their volunteers are thoroughly prepared for the challenges they will face in assisting clients.

McDougall’s leadership goals for the Ottawa Distress Centre will be to have “vision and [take] steps to move forward.”
“[The Distress Centre]has been in existence for 43 years and has been doing an absolutely fabulous job,” she said. “But with the changes because of the way we’re funded, we know that things will get tight. Other agencies have felt the crunch of not being able to be funded.”

She expressed a desire to explore the changing communication patterns of young people. “Mental health is no longer a hidden. It’s still not widely discussed. It’s still has a lot of stigma attached to it,” said McDougall.

“Your generation and how you communicate with each other is very different to how I communicated with my friends,” she said. “There may be other areas we need to look at from a digital perspective. Having a vision of moving forward in our new day and age is important to me.”

If you or anyone else needs assistance in overcoming any of life’s obstacles, the Ottawa Distress Centre is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be reached at 613-238-3311.