Front-line workers in Ontario burdened with the emotional stress of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have UWindsor psychology professor Ben Kuo to turn to for help.
Dr. Kuo is among more than 200 psychologists across Canada offering services for free to front-line workers. It’s a telehealth initiative organized by the Canadian Psychological Association.
“They were recruiting volunteers to offer pro-bono services and I answered the call,” Kuo said.
So far, Kuo is counselling one worker. For confidentially reasons, he described the worker only as a nurse at a major hospital in Ontario.
Kuo, who has worked with refugees and people who have survived wars and natural disasters, says there are parallels with the current pandemic.
“It is absolutely a form of trauma,” he said.
“You might be worried about your own safety going into the hospital everyday, especially if there is a lack of PPE (personal protective equipment),” he said. “You might be thinking, ‘Am I going to get sick from this,’ or, in the extreme, ‘Am I going to die from this?’ This is a realistic fear.”
Caring for sick people can take an emotional toll as well.
“The other trauma is just seeing the pain and suffering of your patients…. Then there’s grief. They develop relationships with their patients. What happens when those patients die? There’s no time to grieve.”
Because front-line workers are at higher risk of carrying the virus that causes COVID-19, or becoming infected and falling ill, they must remain isolated from their families.
“There’s that interpersonal trauma, as well,” Kuo said.
Psychologists who sign on the service can offer services in many languages. In Kuo’s case, he offers services in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and English.
Anyone reaching out to a psychologist for help can expect a return call in 24 hours.
The service is open to anyone providing health care or personal support, or working in a setting where health care is provided, such as shelters, group homes, correctional facilities, or long-term care settings.
“All front-line health care providers who may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed or distressed by being on the front lines of this health crisis are eligible to access this service,” the Canadian Psychological Association said in announcing the initiative.
Karen Cohen, the association’s chief executive officer, said it’s an important service.
“This burden takes its toll on the mental health of health care providers, and Canadian psychologists are doing all they can to help them.”