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Mental Health

Canadian Researchers Implement PTSD Program for Healthcare Workers

— July 18, 2022

McMaster University researchers are developing a website and peer support app for those in the healthcare field.

Two researchers at Canada’s McMaster University are working a pandemic-related PTSD program with healthcare workers who have been manning the frontlines during the worst COVID. They’ve received more than $4.5 million in federal funding to move forward with their project.

One of the researchers, Margaret McKinnon, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster, said, “We started surveying the mental health and well-being of Canadian healthcare workers during the Delta variant wave and found that 1 in 4 were endorsing symptoms consistent with PTSD.”

The team saw this as unacceptable and decided to take action. Their venture will include a website with evidence-based therapy resources as well as a smartphone app that promotes early intervention and peer support for those in the field. Together, they anticipate the PTSD program will reach more than 100,000 workers all across Canada.

Canadian Researchers Implement PTSD Program for Healthcare Workers
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The survey showed that “moral distress was triggered by factors such as feeling helpless when caring for critically ill COVID patients, having to perform care that was perceived to be futile, and being at the beside of dying COVID patients instead of their family members,” the researchers reported. Family was prohibited from entering the hospital earlier in the pandemic because of visitor restrictions that had been put into place at the time.

Aside from these distressing factors, healthcare workers had near-unmanageable caseloads throughout the height of the pandemic, worked incredibly long hours, and were chronically exhausted.  This caused both their physical and mental health to deteriorate.

The findings led the team to build their website called “Health Care Salute. Thank You for Your Service.”

“Through this platform, we want to thank healthcare workers for their sacrifices during the pandemic and also provide tools to help them to recognize the symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety and validate their experiences,” McKinnon said.  It is scheduled to be launched in the fall of this year and will include personal accounts of those on the frontlines as well as much-needed coping resources.

The app in development is called “Beyond Silence.” This project is being spearheaded by Sandra Moll, PhD, an occupational therapist and associate professor at McMaster’s School of Rehabilitation Science.  She is working alongside McKinnon, and the app will make peer support a priority.

“We don’t have an established culture around peer support for healthcare workers or an established training program, even though the evidence shows it’s beneficial,” explained Moll. “Organizations that use the app will get this training for their peer-support providers.”

The app also includes a chat bot that will ask, “How are you doing today? What do you need? How can I help you?” when a user logs in. When the user responds that they are in distress, the bot will reply, “You’re not alone.”

“I was shocked that being asked about feelings by something on your phone was found to be super helpful,” Moll admitted.

Right now, the team is analyzing the effects of their PTSD program in clinical settings including small practices, medical centers, large hospital systems, long-term care communities, and rural medical sites, among other place of work.

Moll explained, “We’ll be working with organizational champions to answer such questions as, ‘Who take it up?’ ‘How do they download it?’ ‘Do people use it just once or every day?’ We’re really excited about trying to understand those patterns of use.”


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