Online therapists are helping workers cope with COVID-19 anxiety

Uncertainty. Isolation. The constant stream of bad news.

While the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect the mental health of Canadians, leaders in the public and private sectors are turning to digital tools to help address its impact.

Mental health crisis
In March, Canada’s overall mental health index fell 16% to a score of 63, according to research from HR services firm Morneau Shepell. The study examines how the pandemic has shaped the outlook of Canadian workers.

“An overall score of 63 is very concerning,” the firm said. “Such a score is typically only seen in the subset of employees who have major life disruption and mental health risk.”

Four in five Canadians (81%) are reporting the pandemic has negatively affected their psychological health, with many citing the following concerns:

  • Financial impact of the outbreak (55%)
  • Fear of contracting the virus (42%)
  • Fear of a loved one falling ill/passing away (42%)
  • Uncertainty over its impact on the family (33%)

“These findings confirm that COVID-19 is not just an infectious disease issue – we are looking at a mental health crisis,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell.

“This survey is of working Canadians, which makes this pandemic as relevant for businesses as it is for public health.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: How to safeguard mental health

‘A sense of normalcy’ amid uncertainty
Morneau Shepell – which specialises in digital HR services, such as technology-based mental health support for employees – is now working with the government of Manitoba in introducing an online platform called AbilitiCBT for people dealing with COVID-19 anxiety.

The program makes use of cognitive behavioural therapy – in the age of social distancing.

“The combination of online modules and ongoing guidance and support from a therapist is what drives the clinical efficacy of the program,” said Nigel Branker, president of health and productivity solutions at the firm.

“People complete the modules at their own pace, while the therapist monitors progress, and regularly checks in along the way. This structured approach can help create a sense of normalcy in these otherwise uncertain times,” he said.

READ MORE: Will ‘virtual’ mental health care save your staff?

The recent rise in ‘virtual appointments’ may be due to the notion that “people are super anxious – but perhaps not wanting to venture out to a practice to meet with someone at this time,” online therapist Haley Neidich told Business Insider.

Other organizations are also responding to the demand for online mental health consultations.

Hard Feelings, a social enterprise that advocates low-cost counselling for Canadians, has shifted its services online, Reuters reported.

Thrive Global, a wellness tech platform, on the other hand, is lending emotional and psychological support to frontline workers. Similarly, online therapy platform Talkspace is giving 1,000 healthcare workers an entire month of counselling for free.

The World Health Organization last month issued additional physical and mental health guidelines for coping with the disruptions brought on by the pandemic.

“If you can’t leave the house, find an exercise video online, dance to music, do some yoga, or walk up and down the stairs,” advised Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO.

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