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Support for Patients and Healthcare Workers with Mental Health Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic shows us how important healthcare is for every person in Ontario and around the world. In addition, the pandemic has emphasized the many barriers that already exist in the Ontario healthcare system for patients with disabilities. AODA healthcare standards could prevent and remove these barriers, and ensure that all Ontarians access the care they need. For instance, support for patients and healthcare workers with mental health challenges could prevent or remove some of the barriers Ontario patients face.

Support for Patients and Healthcare Workers with Mental Health Challenges

As a result of COVID-19, more people may develop physical disabilities, such as:

Therefore, more guidelines governing the healthcare system would better support the growing number of patients with these disabilities. Likewise, many people may develop Mental health disabilities as a result of the pandemic. For instance, some mental health challenges people experience happen after upsetting life events, or constant stress. As the pandemic progresses, more people may experience increased stress because they:

  • Worry about contracting COVID-19
  • Are isolated from family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues
  • Feel constantly saddened by news about the pandemic
  • Have difficulty coping with changes, such as:
    • Safety protocols for every-day tasks, such as shopping
    • Supervising children during online learning
    • Adapting to remote work
    • Caring for older or immunocompromised loved ones, in person or at a distance
    • Mourning loved ones who have passed away, while distanced from other loved ones

Constant stress from all these factors may lead to mental health challenges. For example, some of the mental illnesses people may experience are:

Anxiety Disorders:

Conditions in which people’s experience of anxiety becomes overwhelming and often affects other aspects of their lives.

Persistent feelings of sadness that can impact people’s:

  • Thoughts
  • Moods
  • Behaviour
  • Energy levels
  • Activities
  • Physical health

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

A condition in which some people who have experienced a traumatic event, such as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disaster, may have repeated, involuntary memories or flashbacks of the event, sometimes triggered by sights, sounds or smells that recall the event.

Furthermore, some healthcare workers may also develop mental health challenges, after treating patients with COVID-19 under intensely stressful conditions. As a result, the healthcare system must be prepared to meet the needs of many more people with these conditions.

More Support for Patients and Healthcare Workers with Mental Health Challenges

AODA healthcare standards could require healthcare providers to make information about mental health supports available to patients. Healthcare workers could post contact information about services such as:

  • Help lines, by:
    • Phone
    • Text
    • Live web chat
    • Email
  • Mental health community resources
  • Programs providing supports such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Peer support programs

In addition, healthcare providers could post pamphlets explaining the process for:

  • Referral to a professional counsellor, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Finding mental health support at school or work

 Furthermore, healthcare providers could post notifications in different places and formats. Healthcare providers could post signs outside their doors and in other prominent places. In addition, healthcare providers could train all staff so that they can offer patients information in person. Staff can take better advantage of these services if they are fully aware of them. Finally, healthcare providers could also post notifications on their websites and on phone-answering services, such as answering machines or automated answering systems.

Moreover, AODA healthcare standards could also include requirements to remedy the shortage of mental health professionals. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more training programs for psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professional mental health counsellors. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for these professionals, so that more people would follow these career paths. Likewise, standards could mandate more training on mental health for family doctors and nurse practitioners. Thorough training could help these healthcare workers interact with patients who have mental health challenges, and refer them to specialists when needed.

Finally, all these improvements to the healthcare system would also benefit healthcare workers with disabilities, including mental health challenges. It is vital that Ontario should develop a healthcare system equipped to support patients and healthcare workers who have mental health challenges.