Psychologist fears for health-care workers’ mental health amid pandemic

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Although the pandemic took hold in March, Grace really started seeing evidence of burnout at her practice in the fall.

“Especially as the days got shorter through the fall, the stress tremendously increased,” she said.

“When things had to close down again in November, there was just this massive influx of stressors.”

She said those with children are facing the same challenges many Albertan families are facing with decisions around school and home-based learning, but with the added concern of possibly bringing COVID home to their children.

Dr. Paul Boucher, president of the AMA and an intensive care specialist, said the stressors facing doctors right now are diverse.

“It almost comes in two waves,” he said. “The fear of getting sick — the fear of making your family sick — and then there’s the concern then of creating a hole in the system where everyone is already overstretched.

“So if I fall ill and have to take a couple weeks off, even if I don’t feel terribly sick, I’ve created a big problem in my call group.”

The AMA’s Physician and Family Support Program (PFSP) saw a noticeable spike in use by Alberta physicians in 2020, with 28 per cent more calls to the main 24-hour assistance line over the previous year, as well as 59 per cent more calls due to occupational burnout/stress, and 27 per cent more calls due to anxiety, stress and depression.

However, the program that doctors and their families turn to for mental health concerns is now potentially at risk, according to Boucher. The province’s commitment to fund the program was written into the master agreement with the AMA, which was terminated by the provincial government in February.

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