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Provincial government provides healthcare workers with mental health supports

Nurses and doctors continue to face fatigue and burnout
Health-care workers are exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, anxiety and depression as a result of their work.

B.C.’s government is creating a tailored response to healthcare workers’ mental health issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the workforce in many industries, and particularly for frontline workers. 

Multiple studies show health care workers are exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, anxiety and depression as a result of their work.

The ministry said it’s working with partners like the Canadian Mental Health Association, SafeCare BC, unions and employer groups to expand the number of supports available to such workers.

B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen said stresses have been increased by shortages of personal protective equipment, as well as a shortage of nurses.

“Our nurses are exhausted, showing signs of burnout and an overall decline in their mental health. The pandemic continues to expose just how vulnerable our health-care system truly is when it comes to not having enough nurses,” Sorensen said.

Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Matthew Chow said it became necessary to sound alarms about the problems doctors and others were facing as the pandemic progressed.

“They are in a pressure cooker right now, and they are struggling,” he said.

Chow said doctors face different stressors in differing practice areas.

“Intensive care doctors in cities are under intense pressure,” he said, noting in addition to treating patients, they also have to make the heart-wrenching calls about illness or death to families.

Family doctors, he said, are finding nine out of 10 patients reporting mental health issues. On top of handling those cases, such doctors also have to run their own practices. While they may get paid from the public purse, those funds have to cover staff wages and other expenses.

Chow said B.C.’s public health physicians “have the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

That includes those such as chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Chow said public health physicians have faced public criticism and even threats as they do their jobs through the pandemic.

Chow said the Doctors of B.C. runs the Physicians Health Program to assist members with such things as burnout, stress or substance abuse. Its use has doubled, he said.

“We’ve had to provide more resources to that in the past year,” Chow said.

However, Chow is optimistic that things will continue to improve as vaccinations continue.

“What the public needs to be doing right now is getting vaccinated,” Chow said. “That’s the greatest show of gratitude we could ever get from the public.”

The ministry said various resources are available for frontline workers, including:

Care for Caregivers - a website with tailored content for healthcare workers, particularly those working in long-term/continuing care:
Care to Speak – a peer support service providing emotional and psychological help to healthcare workers;
• Mobile Response Team – supporting the mental well-being and psychological safety of frontline health care workers;
• Provincial Health Services Authority: 1-888-686-3022; 
Canadian Mental Health Association online resource hub; and   
Provincial mental health support.

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