Front-line workers, residents of care homes at bigger risk of mental health struggles: advocates
TORONTO -- Advocates are concerned that front-line workers and those living and working in long-term care homes could see a wave of mental health struggles due to the pandemic.
Jordan Friesen, national director of workplace mental health with the Canadian Mental Health Association, told CTV News Channel on Sunday that front-line workers are among the groups the CMHA is most concerned about right now.
“We see front-line workers experiencing higher levels of fear, worry, uncertainty … feelings of anxiety and anxiousness that of course are related to them being in an elevated risk for contracting COVID-19,” he said.
He added that front-line workers not only are shouldering fears of catching the virus themselves, but are also struggling with the worry that they could pass the virus to their families.
Because of these overlapping stresses, front-line workers are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues “down the road after this pandemic starts to resolve,” Friesen said.
One factor making things worse is the lack of time for front-line workers to deal with what is happening in their lives.
“They’re trying to maintain some semblance of mental health and wellbeing while at the same time, being put into a very stressful situation every day,” Friesen said.
This doesn’t give workers the necessary time to de-stress and reflect on the situations they find themselves in.
It’s not only front-line workers who are facing these issues at a higher level than the rest of the population, however.
Friesen said that getting mental health support for seniors in long-term care homes is “certainly a challenging situation.”
With so many deaths occurring in long-term care homes, it’s understandable that residents would be experiencing higher levels of fear and anxiety.
“Of course, they are some of the most vulnerable of our population, and I know that in particular, that level of isolation can be challenging,” Friesen said.
He added that during holidays that are normally a family affair, such as Easter, the isolation can be especially hard on seniors.
“Being disconnected from family is such a difficult thing to be faced with as someone who may be alone in a long-term care facility,” he said.
“I think that in terms of safeguarding your mental health, if you’re in that situation … of course trying to find virtual ways to connect with family is really important.”
Friesen said there have been some signs of action from governments across Canada, “certainly at the provincial level,” which brings some hope.
“For instance, in B.C. there was an announcement just last week about some virtual support specifically for front-line workers and long-term care providers to help with some of the feelings of anxiety that they (may) be experiencing,” he said.
“And across the board we’re seeing governments investing in accessible services. For example, Ontario recently announced funding of a program called Bounce Back for $2.5 million dollars, which, again, is around managing symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
In terms of what the average person can do to help maintain their own mental health, Friesen said one of the important things in his view is to show kindness and remember to express gratitude for anything helping you right now.
“Both things are really good practices to maintain for your mental health, and I think are especially relevant around Easter,” he said.