The Royal offering mental health care from a distance

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre is launching a virtual mental health clinic Monday to help people struggling in this time of intense stress and anxiety, and to take some of the burden off hospitals.

Virtual clinic providing assessments, medication, short-term psychotherapy

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre launched the virtual mental health clinic Monday. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The upheaval caused by the  COVID-19 pandemic is affecting nearly every aspect of our lives including our relationships, our work and our finances. It's stressful for most of us, but for some it's causing serious mental health issues, or compounding existing problems.

To help people cope, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre has launched a temporary virtual clinic to provide urgent care including health assessments, medication and short-term psychotherapy.

Dr. Susan Farrell, a clinical psychologist overseeing the C-PROMPT Urgent Care Clinic, spoke about the initiative with Robyn Bresnahan on CBC's Ottawa Morning. The following has been edited for length.

Who exactly are the patients you're targeting with this service?

Many people with urgent mental health needs are not able to access the care they need, either because hospitals have had to focus their attention to acute care, or because people have increased stress and anxiety related to the pandemic. The C-PROMPT clinic will meet people's needs virtually, so that we can respect physical distancing and divert people from hospital emergency rooms.

Dr. Susan Farrell is a clinical psychologist overseeing the C-Prompt Urgent Care Clinic. She's also the vice-president of patient care and community mental health at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. (Waiser/Dionne)

If somebody thinks they need this right now, what will they see when they go on the Royal's webpage? 

Our website has information including a referral form, and we are accepting referrals from family physicians, nurse practitioners and hospital psychiatrists. We can step in and fill urgent mental health needs including assessment, medication and short-term support services. There's a range of different things that we're offering, mostly virtually, but some in person.

What do you hope to prevent by providing this clinic? 

Our number one goal is to prevent the worsening of anyone's mental health needs. We're hoping to help people stay away from emergency departments, which are filled with a number of physical health cases and COVID-19-related cases.

What were you hearing from community members and from doctors that prompted you to start this clinic now? 

As hospitals needed to focus their attention on the acute or physical health care demands of treating people with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19, they've had to shift their services from outpatients with mental health issues. We wanted to step in and provide that short-term care for their clients, or for other people in the community.

What advice do you have for our listeners who might not qualify for the clinic but are still struggling with their mental health right now?

In times of increased stress and anxiety, we can forget the basics of protecting our mental health. We can still develop routines. We can focus on social contacts to keep connected to one another. We can focus on eating as healthfully as we can, trying to sleep well, getting some exercise and reaching out to other people who may be in need. Those are all of the protective factors of our mental health and they're particularly important in a time like this.

Dr. Susan Farrell is vice-president of patient care and community mental health at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

The Royal's temporary clinic will provide health assessments, medication and short-term psychotherapy for the most vulnerable mental health patients. 6:05

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