Therapists offer mental health care from a distance as anxiety over COVID-19 grows
People are more susceptible to mental illness because of job loss, isolation and pressures of homeschooling
Nicole MacRae might not be able to see her clients face to face, but she's been following up with them a lot more than usual through email, phone and with online apps.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak first started, the mental health social worker has seen an increase in anxiety with her clients, who are contacting her about things like cancelled family trips and birthday parties or being unable to visit loved ones in hospital.
"That's grief and loss," said MacRae, who is also the owner of Oak and Cedar Counselling Services in Fredericton.
"That requires a lot more check-ins."
MacRae has more than 10 years experience working with parents, youth and young families.
These days, she has been hearing from people worried about the future of their small business, and new parents who had counted on support from family once they brought home their new baby home from the hospital.
"You don't realize how much support you have until you don't have any."
Working at home with kids
Many parents are also on the verge of "burn-out" because they're working from home.They're faced with the pressure of homeschooling their kids, keeping up a routine and entertaining them throughout the day.
"It's a lot to juggle," she said. "There is a sense of, 'I'm exhausted and every day feels the exact same and it's a lot.'"
None of us ever have perfect mental health all the time.- Kristen Barnes, Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick
She's been trying to encourage parents to teach their children through play and hands-on experiences, such as washing the car, ordering groceries, baking or learning about family finances.
"Pandemic parenting isn't' going to look like everyday parenting," she said.
And rather than make a longer to-do list, she's encouraging parents to do the opposite: slow down and encourage wellness in the household, instead.
That can include taking a bath or building a tent and watching movies in the living room with the kids..
"Enjoy the time that you have because it's not going to be very much time where the focus really is stay at home and take care of yourself," she said.
A jump in new clients
Counsellors are seeing a jump in new clients looking for emotional support.
While some counsellors have decided to close their offices, others are finding creative ways to work with their clients. This could include everything from online Zoom conferences, creating YouTube channels or simply picking up the phone and having a conversation.
"We're trying to do as much as we can," said Joan Wright, senior psychologist and owner of the Joan Wright & Associates and MindShift clinic in the Fredericton area.
Over the past few weeks, Wright has seen an uptick in referrals and is seeing clients virtually that she hasn't yet met in person because of the outbreak.
This could include people who have lost their jobs and people concerned about spending too much time in isolation.
"To me it's an ethical obligation to see clients and support them," said Wright.
How to take control over anxiety in a pandemic
Wright, who has more than 25 years experience, said the outbreak has caused anxiety in many clients because their daily routines have been "ripped away from them."
That's why it's important to take control of your day and focus on where you have control, not where you don't. This can include managing a proper sleep, eating and exercise cycle.
Some clients, for example, have changed their mindset, seeing their staying at home as a choice, not something imposed by government.
"I'm choosing to stay home to protect Frederictonians," she said. "I have control, not the premier."
It's also important for people to focus on what they do have — not what they don't.
She uses examples like, being able to wear what you want to wear while working at home, having a table to work on or food in the fridge.
Wright said acceptance of what's happening around the globe also plays an important role.
"Trusting we have resiliency, as human beings."
She also suggests taking 15 minutes to focus on breathing, instead of what's happening outside.
Normalizing feelings about COVID-19
The Canadian Psychological Association is also offering mental health support to front-line health service providers. A number of psychologists from each province have volunteered to provide psychological services to those individuals.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick is providing a number of free services for people struggling to maintain their mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Those include live webinars about topics such as self-compassion, coping with anxiety, having a healthy work-life balance and talking to children about COVID-19.
"We have a large response in terms of the webinars and taking in presentations and other types of services we're offering," said Kristen Barnes, director of operations at the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick.
Barnes said it's important to normalize people's feelings about COVID-19.
"There are some people who are experiencing a lot of anxiety and there are other people who are not experiencing stress or fear," she said. "And that's OK because it impacts us all differently.
"None of us ever have perfect mental health all the time."