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Supporting the mental health needs of those on front-lines

Each day, health-care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak are facing enormous pressure, caring for patients battling the disease, supporting those who have lost loved ones, and coping with the many ways the outbreak has touched their own home and family lives.

UBC’s Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, DMCBH member and head of the department of psychiatry, believes the outbreak could have a far-reaching toll on the mental health of health-care providers and their families.

During Mental Health Week, Dr. Yatham shares some of the unique challenges currently facing health-care providers, and reveals how he and his UBC colleagues are stepping up to support the mental health needs of front-line doctors during the outbreak — and beyond.

What are some of the unique challenges currently facing health-care workers on the front-lines of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Health-care workers on the front-lines of the outbreak are facing a lot of pressure, coping with various stresses associated with caring for patients infected with a highly-contagious virus, while putting themselves—and their own families—at risk.

Many are also having to make critical decisions without the support from patients’ family and friends who would typically be at the bedside. Others may be facing extended shifts with higher volumes of patients with severe illness. On top of this, they are juggling personal and family responsibilities.

How are UBC faulty members stepping up to support the mental health needs of physicians on the front lines?

When the COVID-19 outbreak began, I recognized health-care workers on the front-lines would be experiencing increased stress and anxiety now, but also well into the future. So I sent a call out to my fellow colleagues and psychiatrists across the province asking for volunteers to help with the surge in demand for mental health care for front-line physicians.

The response to the call was heartwarming, with almost 50 faculty members from the UBC Department of Psychiatry responding to the call. We are now collaborating with the Physician Health Program, a service funded by Doctors of BC and the Ministry of Health, to increase capacity and support by providing virtual mental health consultation for physicians.

What are some steps health-care workers can take now to protect their mental health?

Health-care workers should schedule breaks when possible, connect with friends or family through phone or video calls, practise mindfulness, limit their COVID-19 news intake, and ensure they’re staying active on days off by going for walks, bike rides, or practicing yoga.

While some anxiety is normal and to be expected at this time, it’s important that health-care workers, like all of us, don’t hesitate to seek help when they need it.

How can the public support doctors during this time?

The best way for the public to support front-line health-care workers at this time is by following the public health measures: practising physical distancing, regular hand washing and avoiding non-essential travel. All of these steps are in place to limit the spread of virus and prevent overwhelming our health-care system and those on the front-lines.

 

The Physician Health Program is available to physicians, residents, medical students and their families. The 24 hour Helpline: 1-800-663-6729. For weekly physician peer support sessions, email peersupport@physicianhealth.com for more information.

 

This story was originally published on the UBC Faculty of Medicine's website. You can find it here. 

Dr. Yatham also spoke to CTV News about this topic, which can found here