TORONTO -- Ontario is expanding its network of virtual mental health services for residents who may be struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some have lost their jobs, some have lost their customers, some have had deeper losses,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“A father, a mother, a grandparent, a friend. That kind of grief and stress it has an impact, not only on our physical health, but on our mental health too.”

“At a time when we all must practice physical distancing, it can be isolating not seeing family or friends for weeks, it can be isolating not having anyone call or check in.”

The internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (iCBT) programs are part of the government’s $12 million emergency investment in mental health announced last month and was developed in partnership with MindBeacon and Morneau Shepell.

These services include access to mental health support providers so that users can “self-refer” themselves into the programs of their choice, as well as telephone coaching.

The government says the expansion will also work to support frontline health-care workers who may be experiencing burnout, anxiety or depression.

“They’re the ones in the trenches, they’re the ones working 12 hour shifts. Their jobs can be stressful and demanding, but every day they get up and they got to work,” Ford said of these workers.

“They help people and save lives. They’re absolute heroes, they’re superheroes if you ask me, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they do, day in and day out.”

“They take care of us and were going to make sure we take care of them too.”

The province also announced the establishment of their Mental Health and Addictions COVID-19 Response Table to ensure that all residents have access to these services for the duration of the pandemic.

The table, comprised of members from the Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence at Ontario Health, has been tasked with maintaining the availability of these services throughout the outbreak.

“The Response Table is identifying concerns and implementing quick solutions, supporting virtual care strategies, sharing best practices, and connecting with other COVID-19 regional and provincial tables to ensure any issues impacting the province's mental health and addictions system are quickly resolved,” the province said in a news release.

Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo underscored the importance of these services during the provincial lockdown.

“The unfortunate reality is that there is a tendency during these highly disruptive and stressful times for people to not always take the time to look after themselves or to check in with a friend, a colleague or a loved one to see how they are really feeling,” Tibollo said.

“Our government’s overriding priority is to ensure that all Ontarians have access to the high quality services and supports they expect and deserve especially during these unprecedented times. We will continue to listen and work collaboratively across governments to ensure Ontrarians are fully supported in their journey towards mental wellness.”

Ontario’s emergency funding for mental health services is also being used to hire and train more staff at mental health agencies, as well as for the purchase of the necessary equipment and technology they need to help patients.