UBCO teams up with psychologists and nurses to support health care workers

Volunteers provide free, online, mental health first aid

All of BC’s frontline health care workers can now access online support services to help them cope with the psychological effects of managing the COVID-19 outbreak.

UBC’s Okanagan campus announced today-in a partnership with the BC Psychological Association (BCPA) and the Association of Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC (NNPBC)- that mental health help is now available for those on the front lines of COVID-19.

A new, and free, psychological support service went live this week with more than 160 registered psychologists volunteering their time to the initiative.

“There is emerging evidence that the psychological effects of COVID-19 are just as great as the physical effects, particularly for front-line health care workers,” says Lesley Lutes, a UBCO professor of psychology, registered psychologist and lead on the new initiative.

Lutes points to a recent study from China that demonstrated front-line workers were significantly more likely to suffer from the negative mental health effects of being at the epicentre of the outbreak. Data shows 52 per cent report symptoms of depression and anxiety while 70 per cent report clinical levels of distress and experiencing insomnia at three times the rate compared to other health care workers as a result of the outbreak.

“We’re always worried about the mental health of our front-line health care workers. But the data coming from China is incredibly alarming,” says Lutes. “This has, therefore, necessitated the need for immediate action to provide support to these critical workers.”

In response to this unprecedented need, Lutes is coordinating a new initiative that will deliver free online access to psychological services to any front-line health care worker.

“I compare our healthcare workers in BC to the firefighters and first responders during 9/11,” says Lutes. “And we need to remember that mental health never goes away. Even during a pandemic, it doesn’t stop.”

The BCPA is providing administrative support for this program, along with UBCO’s expertise and resources. And even before this initiative went live, Lutes says the College of Psychologists of BC also stepped up to contribute funding-and will monitor, promote and enhance compliance with the professional standards in the provision of these services to health care workers. However, she wants to emphasize that this initiative is only operating through the kindness of volunteer psychologists-more than 160 of them-who have stepped up to help at this time.

Lutes has already expanded the offering of this service to all essential workers.

“I see the distress, strain and worry in the eyes of the grocery store clerks, the pharmacy technician and the gas station attendant,” she adds. “We plan to expand services even further to the wider public in the coming weeks with additional resources.”

As the service expands, measures of help could include providing daily supportive automated text messages, online well-being resources, live psychoeducational groups and some virtual ‘walk-in’ clinic psychological services for those wanting additional support.

“These are unprecedented times,” says Lutes. “It calls for unprecedented compassion, support and help for each other. I am truly humbled by the people, groups and organizations who have stepped up to help us through this. We will get through this. Together.”

Visit the BCPA or NNPBC

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