Premier Doug Ford says that he wants Ontarians who are struggling with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic to know that they are “not alone” and that “we will get through this together.”

Ford made the comments during a news conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday afternoon, where he announced the rollout of a series of new Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) programs that will be made available to all Ontarians free of charge.

The online programs, which were developed in partnership with MindBeacon and Morneau Shepell, are part of a previously announced $12 million investment Ford’s government is making in expanding virtual and online health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At a time when we all must practice physical distancing it can be isolating not seeing your family or friends for weeks. It can be isolating not having anyone call or check in and it can be isolating going through each day when each day looks the same,” Ford said. “It creates stress and anxiety and depression. So if you are listening to this my message to you is simple: you are not alone. We will support you and we will get through this together.”

The online programs announced by Ford on Tuesday will all be supported by therapists and those requiring more intensive levels of care could be referred for virtual face-to-face sessions.

The province has also partnered with five hospitals to “provide specific services for frontline healthcare workers,” including access to peer discussion groups. Those hospitals include the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, The Royal Mental Health Centre, and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

“Our frontline heroes need support too. They are the ones in the trenches and they are the ones working 12-hour shifts,” Ford said. “Their jobs can be stressful and demanding but every day they get up and they go to work. They are absolute heroes, superheroes if you ask me. They take care of us and we are going to make sure that we take care of them to.”