Pandemic taking mental health toll on front-line medical workers

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Pandemic taking mental health toll on frontline medical workers
WATCH: The pandemic has been mentally and emotionally exhausting for everyone. Frontline health care workers come face to face with the virus each day. Aaron Streck has more on a program that was launched to provide support to those workers – May 5, 2021

The pandemic has been mentally and emotionally exhausting for everyone.

Front-line health-care workers come face to face with the virus each day. Hospitals and intensive care units in the province are overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.

“This pandemic has become very challenging and taxing,” said Eram Chhogala, an emergency trauma services registered nurse.

Chhogala has seen first-hand the devastation caused by COVID-19.

“When (patients are) incredibly short of breath and I think that’s the hardest thing to see,” said Chhogala.

She’s been a registered nurse for six years and works at two Toronto hospitals.

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“We’re kind of like the middle man in a battlefield trying to do what we can relay messages, using iPads for FaceTime, communicating through the phone, to let them know how their loved one is,” said Chhogala.

All of this, day after day, has taken a toll on the 36-year-old’s mental and emotional well-being. Chhogala says prayer and meditation have been key to helping her cope.

“Not a lot of people are able to be open about what they feel and what they’re seeing and explain all those things to a friend or a colleague,” said Chhogala.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario recently released a survey on mental health and well-being that found an overwhelming majority reported high stress levels, and at least 13 per cent of young nurses said they were likely to leave their profession after the pandemic.

“Mental health is not one thing. You compound things more and more and more and more and you keep piling up. This is what’s happening to our colleagues,” said Doris Grinspun, the association’s CEO.

“Only a very small percentage took time off to actually take care of that stress. While it sounds heroic, it is devastating from a health perspective.”

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Ontario Shores in Whitby launched a Health Care Workers Assist program last April. Clinical manager Katherin Creighton-Taylor says the rapid access service includes four to six virtual sessions. They offer skills to enhance resilience and manage stress.

“We really wanted to design a service that was adaptable and flexible to the needs, whether someone has experienced anxiety and depression in the past or are experiencing these symptoms for the first time,” said Creighton-Taylor.

The program has so far helped hundreds of health-care workers across the province.

As for Chhogala, she hopes anyone needing help right now opens up.

“We don’t verbalize it. We can kind of understand what each person, can feel what the other person is going through at times,” said Chhogala.

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