Researchers recruiting front-line healthcare workers for trial intervention during COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) have launched a study that will compare the efficacy of two innovative programs on improving the mental health and resiliency of frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frontline healthcare workers regularly face difficult decisions, and have been placed in uniquely challenging situations since COVID-19 first surfaced early this spring.

The BREATH study will compare two standardized interventions, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), a breath based yogic cognitive supportive intervention, and the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), an active control offering psychoeducation and specific health self-management techniques during the current pandemic.

Participants will be randomized into two groups, one receiving the SKY intervention and the other receiving HEP. Researchers will measure their baseline symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety and PTSD at the beginning of the study, and again after the participants have gone through the programs to determine if SKY and/or HEP are able to improve these outcomes.

SKY is a type of standardized cyclical controlled breathing practice, developed from traditional yoga. This yogic breathing has been proven to help balance the autonomic nervous system, improving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression in other study samples. HEP includes online instruction for music therapy, journaling, and psychoeducation regarding healthy, active living. For this study, both programs have been personalized for frontline workers supporting the pandemic.

“These interventions are easy to deliver via online platforms on a large scale, and can be delivered to those in need, very quickly, at the worker’s convenience,” explains Dr. Akshya Vasudev, Associate Scientist at Lawson and Geriatric Psychiatrist at London Health Sciences Centre. “If this study is successful, we hope to use the data to approach large granting agencies for a definitive trial to show that SKY and/or HEP can be offered to frontline staff to help them cope during future crises, and that it might improve their overall mental health and resilience.”

“Once participants learn the skills offered in SKY or HEP, they can use them for the rest of their lives. This will provide healthcare workers with a free to use tool that can build resilience and help them deal with the stressors brought about in both their personal and professional lives.”

The research team aims to recruit up to 60 frontline health care workers from the Southwestern Ontario region. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact Dr. Vasudev via email at @email or his research coordinator, Emily Ionson at @email.

From left: Emily Ionson, Research Coordinator, Emily Pak, Co-op student, Jasmine Cakmak, Graduate Student, Cheryl Forchuk, Scientist and Beryl and Richard Ivey Research Chair in Aging, Mental Health, Rehabilitation and Recovery, Dr. Akshya Vasudev, Associate Scientist and Geriatric Psychiatrist, Christine Watt, Research Assistant.