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Addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

Focusing on people’s mental health and overall wellbeing during these difficult times

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued for a year and a half, many people from all walks of life are feeling the impacts especially when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing.  

Hospital researchers through Lawson Health Research Institute, along with its hospital partners, have been studying the impacts for some key groups.

 

Health care workers have been at the forefront of the pandemic. These heroes have worked tirelessly through every wave and continue to provide excellent care to their patients and community. Dr. Kamia Honarmand, Critical Care Physician at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), remembers the stress that she and her colleagues were feeling, and know that something needed to be done.

“Our team wanted to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the lives of health care workers, both personally and professionally, and understand how they were coping when it came to their mental health,” says Dr. Honarmand who is also an Associate Scientist at Lawson. “There was a lot of reasons to be stressed even before the height of the first wave in our region. There was a lot of anxiety. The hospital wanted to find ways to support health care workers and identify resources that would assist them.”

Dr. Kamia Honarmand, Critical Care Physcian at LHSC and Lawson Associate Scientist 

Frontline health care workers across the region were invited to take part in an online survey about their experiences during the pandemic. “We looked at both the impacts and the preferred coping strategies, and what supportive strategies they would like to have in the hospital in the future.”

The Veterans Care Program located at Parkwood Institute, a part of St. Joseph’s Health Care London, provides complex continuing and long-term care for Canadian war Veterans. Dr. Don Richardson, Director of the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at Parkwood Institute, has been treating and studying mental health among Veterans for many years. He believed this was a group was likely to be affected by the pandemic in unique ways.

“We know that Veterans in general are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and PTSD,” explains Dr. Richardson, who is also a Scientist at Lawson. “We also knew the pandemic and forced restrictions would have significant impact on Veterans and their families who would be more isolated than they already are.”

More than 1,100 Veterans and around 250 spouses were recruited for the study, completing an online survey every three months for 18 months.

The study is still ongoing, but Dr. Richardson says the initial data has been telling. “We have been able to analyze some of the preliminary data and what we have found is that almost 50 per cent did not indicate their mental health had worsened during the pandemic but 40 to 50 per cent have had difficulty accessing care.”

Dr. Don Richardson, Director, Macdonald Franklin OSI Research Centre

The hope is that this study will lead to better preparedness in the future to safeguard the mental health of Veterans and ensure their access to care during a pandemic.

Many people have felt isolation during the pandemic, but that feeling may have even more of an impact for youth suffering from mood and anxiety disorders.

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Director of the First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program (FEMAP) at LHSC says the pandemic-led lockdown forced more than a hundred mental health clients out of in-person services.

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Director of FEMAP and Lawson Scientist

“They lost their resources for mental health services and support as soon as the quarantine was announced,” shares Dr. Osuch, who is also a Scientist at Lawson. “We were concerned that it would be devastating to people – and to some people it was. We wanted to make sure they had an avenue to connect with the program.”

Dr. Osuch and the FEMAP team created an online research platform to find out how patients were doing by having them fill out a symptoms and function questionnaire.

“We have analyzed the first wave so far and it shows that male patients were doing better and female patients were doing worse, which was a surprise. One of the risk factors for not doing well was the loss of their job.”

The pandemic added an extra layer of stress and worry for women who were having a baby.

“This has been an enormous and pivotal time for everyone in the world,” says Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook, Obstetrician-Gynecologist at LHSC. “The experiences during pregnancy and post-partum for both the birthing person and their baby can have effects later in life for children. For example, their overall cardiovascular and metabolic health, bonding experiences and the risk of mood disorders.”

Dr. Eastabrook, who is also an Associate Scientist at Lawson and Assistant Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is working with a team to examine the effects the pandemic may be having for mothers and their babies. As part of the study, the London research team is using an approach called ‘One Health’ which offers a holistic perspective to explore how various risk factors and social determinants of health interact.

Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook, OBGYN at LHSC and Lawson Associate Scientist

“The unique aspect is that we have a comparative group to see if there are differences in markers such as risk of depression, perceived stress and social supports,” adds Dr. Eastabrook.

Study participants are asked to complete a 30-minute questionnaire at around 6-12 weeks after their delivery. The research team is still recruiting patients for this study.

 

This concludes Lawson’s COVID-19 feature series. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to learn more about research studies that helped us understand COVID-19 and explore diagnosis and treatments.