UWindsor researcher aims to help people cope with isolation, uncertainty due to COVID-19
The program initially launched to support health workers on the front lines of COVID-19
University of Windsor student Sanya Sagar anticipates her recently launched mental health program may be a needed resource as Windsor-Essex begins to adjust to a new normal amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"When COVID-19 started and people started feeling quite isolated ... we figured that we have resources ... why not provide that support to the community when they need it?" said Sagar, who is a student of clinical neuro-psychology.
Sagar's mental health program, which is being supervised by associate psychology professor Josée Jarry, launched at the beginning of June.
The free program was initially developed to assist health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, but Jarry and Sagar said they soon discovered health-care workers are heavily stigmatized for accessing mental health supports, which sometimes prevented people from reaching out for help.
"Stigma will be around for a long time and this is a systemic issue that we have to fight against," Sagar said.
Jarry, who has sat in on moral distress counselling sessions for health-care workers at Windsor Regional Hospital, said she witnessed how much pain workers were in and yet how hesitant they were to ask for help.
"It's not weak to seek professional help, it's intelligent and it requires courage," Jarry said.
While the program is still available to health-care workers, Sagar and Jarry have now opened it up to anyone in Windsor-Essex.
"Now that the acute stage of the pandemic has passed, we have people coming to us with the consequences of being in lockdown for so long," Jarry said.
Of those who have reached out, many are experiencing financial concern, while others are struggling to manage pre-existing mental conditions that have resurfaced due to the pandemic, she added.
"Some people are calling because difficulties that they've had before, for example life-long anxiety or depression, have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the lockdown," Jarry said.
On the other hand, she said some people are simply stressed about the idea of returning to work.
Sagar said she hopes the program can be a support for students — some of whom are from outside the city but found themselves "stranded" in Windsor as they weren't able to travel back home.
The program, run by 26 graduate students and four supervisors, offers four free counselling sessions via phone or video call.
The first session is 90 minutes long to "help people enough that they can … have tools to face their challenges," Jarry said.
If people require additional support after the four sessions, they will be transferred to the Ontario Psychological Association, which is offering an additional six sessions for free.
In addition to the therapy sessions, participants are asked to take part in a research component that will evaluate the effectiveness of Sagar's program.
The program will run until the end of August.