VANCOUVER -- B.C. is setting aside $5 million to expand mental health services during the novel coronavirus pandemic the province's premier announced Thursday.

Premier John Horgan and Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions, explained the funding will help expand services so B.C. residents can access them virtually.

"Whether you're feeling stuck at home or separated from other people, this pandemic has been difficult for all of us," Horgan said at a news conference where he and Darcy outlined the new funding. 

"Everyone is experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and disconnection from what the world was supposed to be." 

Of the virtual services being enhanced during the pandemic, the province is particularly focusing on supporting youth and frontline health-care workers.  

"I have heard from people right across B.C. about how this pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health," Darcy said. 

"Whether longstanding challenges are flaring up or you’re struggling with your mental health for the first time – we’re here for you. We’re working quickly to expand virtual mental health services to ensure that when you reach out for support, someone will be there to help."

To help deliver these services, the province is working with Foundry Youth Centres, the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the BC Psychological Association.

Access to free and low-cost community counselling programs – like those that support immigrant and refugee residents – will be expanded.

Access to BounceBack's online programs – which provide online coaching – is also growing and will no longer require a doctor's referral.

"This is huge, and this will help so many people in our province," Darcy said during a news conference about the enhanced services.

Through Foundry, virtual supports will be made available to youth aged 12 to 24 through voice and video chats. 

For those working on the frontlines and in health care, the province is launching a new online hub to offer peer support virtually along with an online psychological support service for health-care workers. 

Darcy also encouraged B.C. residents to support each other.

"Now more than ever we have to take care of ourselves and we have to take care of each other," she said. 

"Reach out to your friends and family. Check in on your neighbour or your elderly relative. Something as simple as a phone call or a text or a note can have a hugely positive impact."

UBC psychology professor Joelle LeMoult called the flexible virtual mental health services vital during this time.

LeMoult is part of a group of researchers who are looking into how the pandemic is impacting people’s mental wellness.

“Our initial data suggested that mental health problems have significantly increased,” she said.

She said it's important that the province acknowledges the challenges people are facing and start the conversation on mental health.

“We're just letting people know that this is a conversation to have, that people are aware of the fact that mental health struggles are happening right now.”

LeMoult and the team of researchers are currently looking for participants to fill out an online survey to get a better understanding of how people are coping. She said the results willl better help the province in the future when tackling mental health issues.

“In order to really better understand what their needs are, what's influencing their mental health right now, and how we can promote resilience,” she said.