VANCOUVER -- All post-secondary students studying in B.C. now have access to free mental health services available 24-7 for the first time.

The provincial government announced the new service, called Here2Talk, on Thursday. It allows confidential sessions that students can access by app, phone or online chat. 

"Until now, post-secondary students have never had access to 24-7 province-wide mental health support services," said Melanie Mark, minister of advanced education, skills and training in a news release. 

"Students advocated for years to fill the gap in available mental-health counselling services in British Columbia."

Mark said with the novel coronavirus pandemic, many post-secondary students have especially needed mental health support, and this program had been in the works for several months. 

"With the advent of COVID-19 and the increased stress it puts on students, we doubled down to get students the supports they so desperately need," she said. 

"I'm very excited to say that Here2Talk is now available for all 555,000 post-secondary students registered across B.C."

Chat sessions with a trained counsellor can be done through the Here2Talk app or online. As well, students can speak to a counsellor over the phone. 

Right now, most of the web-based services are only available in English and French, but phone services are available in some other languages. 

The province says it's setting aside $1.5 million each year for the service.