Hamilton

St. Joe's providing mental health support for workers on front line of COVID-19 pandemic

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton has a message for anyone working on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic: "You don't have to suffer alone."

Services available to cleaners, administrators as well as nurses and doctors

Randi McCabe is a clinical psychologist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton who helped design mental health services for health and community-care workers. (Supplied by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton )

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton has a message for anyone working on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic: "You don't have to suffer alone."

The hospital system is stepping up as the regional lead for mental health support, covering the city and everything west of it and offering those dealing directly with the pandemic — in any setting or role —someone to talk to.

"We're really talking about anybody who's on that front line. It could be housekeeping staff … nutrition staff, admin staff checking people in at the door," said Randi McCabe, a clinical psychologist at St. Joe's. "It could be people working in shelters or hospice."

McCabe's family knows how stressful and scary the virus can be.

Her husband works on a COVID-19 unit and whenever he comes home he makes sure to wash his clothes and shower before speaking with his loved ones, she said.

The possibility of passing along the virus is a source of anxiety others who have continued to work through the pandemic also share.

"There's a big fear of contaminating their family," explained McCabe. "The stress of 'Well how do I keep myself separate from my family? Am I cleaning myself enough?'"

Concerns about people's own health and safety as well as exhaustion from working in a setting, such as a long-term care home, that doesn't have enough staff also create a "huge burden of stress," she said.

Then there's the weight of trying to treat someone with the virus only to watch them die.

"It's very painful emotionally to be involved when someone actually passes away from COVID," said McCabe. "It's very sad."

The province announced Tuesday it was expanding virtual mental health services.

"In order to help stop the spread of this deadly virus our frontline workers are working long hours in stressful situations and people across the province are doing their part by staying home, in many cases alone," stated Health Minister Christine Elliott in a media release.

"We know these actions are not easy and can cause stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. That's why we are providing virtual mental health supports, allowing people to get the help they need while still physically distancing."

The 'new abnormal'

St. Joe's has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association to determine what support is best for each individual who calls in or fills out an online intake form.

Services include self-help, counselling by phone or online, peer-to-peer support and in-person visits for those in crisis.

Anyone who's finding their sleep, appetite or relationships with loved ones affected by the stress of their role is encouraged to reach out.

The pandemic has introduced a "new abnormal," said McCabe, and chances are it will last until a vaccine can be found. That means the stress will be sticking around too.

"This isn't going anywhere and it's actually going to change how we do things for quite a ways to come," she added.

"There is help and hopefully some relief for people if they're suffering from the effects of their stressful positions right now."

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