CALGARY, AB – Seventy per cent of mental health problems take root in adolescence. However, only 20 per cent of children who need help receive mental health support, setting the stage for challenges to follow them into adulthood. That’s why The Social Impact Lab, a collaboration between United Way of Calgary and Area and design and innovation firm J5 Design, developed the Natural Supports Simulation, a free online digital tool that helps adults build skills to support children and youth with mental wellness.

Addressing the three most prevalent mental health concerns experienced by youth – anxiety, depression, and self-harm – the Simulation was developed in consultation with subject matter experts from Alberta Health Services, Calgary Counselling Centre, carya, Catholic Family Services, Government of Alberta: Children’s Services, McMann, The Distress Centre, and The Alex.

“The Natural Supports Simulation is a product of the innovative work we’ve been doing with our partners to improve the lives of people living in Calgary and area. Innovation is a core business function at United Way; it allows us to develop new insights and get to the root causes of the social issues we’re trying to address,” says Beth Gignac, chief operating officer at United Way.

Using a Q&A format, the Simulation guides adults through different scenarios that involve concerning behaviours in children and youth. After completing the Q&A, the user receives information on how to build supportive skills as well as a list of resources available to support mental health concerns.

“We are excited to share a unique experience that empowers citizens to explore and understand the skills needed to support a child or youth experiencing mental health concerns. The simulation is the first step in what we are co-creating to address these complex issues,” says John Vardalos, chief executive officer at J5.

Natural supports are developed organically through the course of daily living with people in our social network. Therefore, a natural support can be a parent, caregiver, relative, teacher, coach, mentor, or friend of the individual in need. As more people speak openly about mental health challenges, the likelihood of being in a situation where you can be a natural support increases.

“As a community, we are stronger when our children and youth have access to natural supports in helping navigate the complex mental health issues they are experiencing. Distress Centre Calgary participated in the co-creation of the Natural Supports Simulation because it aligned so well with our vision statement of ‘Everyone is heard.’ The simulation provides an engaging way in which family, teachers, and coaches can identify and build these skills to better support the children and youth in their lives,” says Robyn Romano, director of operations at the Distress Centre.

The Natural Supports Simulation is desktop and mobile-friendly and can be accessed at at no cost.


United Way of Calgary and Area brings together donors, corporations, agencies, and governments to solve complex social issues and improve the lives of more than 150,000 people every year. Since 1940, United Way has supported agencies that assist vulnerable Calgarians. Today, United Way invests in programs and collaborations with common outcomes, brings people together to coordinate systems change, and designs solutions that address root causes to create lasting social change. Collectively, this work deepens community impact. For more information, please visit

For more information:

Lisa Rushka
[email protected]

Alka Merlin
Communications Lead, External
United Way of Calgary and Area
[email protected]