CPHO Sunday Edition, January 31, 2021 – Supporting the Mental Health of Canada's Frontline Health Workers

As Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, a top priority for me is helping to ensure that Canadians have timely, accurate, evidence-based information so they can make well-informed decisions about their health. Through my Sunday Edition statements, I explore key topics related to COVID-19 in greater detail to provide context and help expand Canadians’ knowledge and understanding of these important issues.

OTTAWA, Jan. 31, 2021 /CNW/ – Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, issued the following statement today:

Today, I would like to start by personally acknowledging all of the health workers serving on Canada’s frontline – our doctors, nurses, public health and community health practitioners, hospital and long-term care workers, and allied health workers – who have been working tirelessly for many months to protect Canadians. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on their remarkable resilience and dedication in the face of continued adversity.

The pandemic has placed frontline health workers in an exceptionally stressful and challenging position. They have had to adapt to new and changing circumstances and protocols and many have faced conflicts between their duty of care and their ability to provide critical services. The daily stress of their jobs, the long hours of work, and the difficult – sometimes impossible – decisions they must make puts them at risk of suffering psychological distress, burnout, and moral injury.

On top of this, frontline health workers are experiencing the impact of the pandemic on a personal level. They are juggling multiple roles as they support loved ones at home, as well as family members – often seniors – in other locations, while simultaneously providing critical care to those in need in their workplaces. They are also dealing with other stressors, such as fear of contracting COVID-19 themselves and bringing it home to their families. In the face of these challenges, frontline health workers may feel tremendous personal, organizational or societal pressure to be superheroes – to not appear vulnerable, tired, worn down, or weak.  All of these pressures may prevent them from seeking the care, treatment and supports they need for their own mental health.

On a personal level, many colleagues, friends, and people from across Canada have courageously shared stories of their daily work on the frontline with me – sharing the incredible stress, sacrifice, and toll that the past year has had on them and their families. My sincere thanks goes out to all health workers on the frontline across the country. At this stage of the pandemic, it is more important than ever that they have our support and gratitude for what they do every day. We all have an important role to play in supporting their mental health and well-being.  Here is how we can help:

How Leaders Can Help

I am asking leaders in the health system to make a special effort to recognize and acknowledge the significant mental health impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on your workforce. More than ever, I encourage leaders to be highly visible to your staff and ensure that the workplace is a safe and supportive environment, with open lines of communication. Leaders can demonstrate caring, empathy and support by taking the time to reassure employees that “it is okay” to be emotionally vulnerable, and to remind them that they are not alone, particularly as they are dealing with tough decisions every day. If employees have moments of struggle (which are normal), they should be encouraged to seek help and know where and how to access the help and support they need.

And leaders, you also need to take care of yourselves – lead by example. Make sure you have a personal support system in place so you can “recharge” when you need to. As my role in this crisis has become more demanding, I have increasingly reached out to my network of family, friends, and colleagues for support – and sometimes just for a little balance during a tough day. This has been invaluable.

There are a number of good resources for leaders in health and other frontline settings that can provide practical support, including this Guide to Moral Injury and Moral Stress amongst healthcare workers during COVID-19. I urge you to use these resources.

How Friends and Colleagues Can Help

I am asking friends and colleagues to check in frequently with those you know who work on the frontlines. Take the time to ask how they are doing and how you can help.  Listen carefully and recognize when they may be struggling or may need a bit of extra support. Encourage them to take a break when possible, to help clear their heads and refocus. These are all important ways you can show your support and let your friends and colleagues know that you care about their well-being and mental health. If a friend or colleague does need help, please assist them in them in finding the resources they need.

How Front Line Workers Can Help

And frontline workers, I would like to ask you to make sure you are taking care of yourselves – especially your mental and emotional well-being – while you are doing the critical work that you do every day caring for others. Please know that you are not alone. Sharing your feelings and talking about your emotional well-being with your colleagues, family members, and friends is good for your mental health. If you are struggling psychologically and if intense emotions are long lasting or interfering with your daily activities, it is really important to get help. Please reach out and ask for help so you can get the support you need quickly.  

Wellness Together Canada has resources that are available free of charge 24/7 ranging from self-assessments to confidential sessions with social workers, psychologists and other professionals. All services are available in both official languages, and phone counseling sessions are supported by instantaneous interpretation in 200 languages and dialects. Frontline health workers can access Wellness Together Canada supports and services by texting the word FRONTLINE to 741741.

How Every Canadian Can Help

One of the most significant ways that we, as Canadians, can help support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of front line health workers is by reducing their workload. We can do this by easing the pressure that COVID-19 is putting on our health system by following public health advice. By doing so, we not only protect ourselves, and those around us, but we also protect all of those who are working so tirelessly to protect our health. Every measure we continue to take – following public health guidelines, staying home when required, isolating if we have symptoms of COVID-19, wearing a face mask, physical distancing, washing our hands frequently, and avoiding non-essential travel – helps. These actions demonstrate our thanks and support for the people who are working tirelessly to protect and care for us every day.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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