Anxious about COVID-19? Get creative with routines, call a friend, says new pandemic therapist

For the past few weeks, Dana St. Jean has been spending her time fielding phone calls and speaking with people over video chat to find ways to help them cope with the stresses of COVID-19.

That’s because St. Jean is the new pandemic response therapist with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Windsor-Essex County Branch. 

“My role right now is to provide brief therapy for individuals that are looking for services,” she said. “That’s upwards to four therapeutic sessions.”

Over the course of her work, St. Jean has been able to connect with five people across Windsor-Essex, able to correspond within 24 to 48 hours. 

“With the individuals that I’ve been able to contact, first and foremost, everybody’s been really receptive to the services that we’re providing,” she said. “Right now, it’s that increase in anxiety and … I’ve noticed a little bit more frustration.”

When it comes to helping people manage the pressure, St. Jean said one of the first things she usually talks about is what steps a patient has used so far.

“A lot of the time, I’m hearing people saying, ‘I’m trying my best’,'” she said. “The other piece is just getting creative a little bit with routines, because people are struggling with the shifts in the routine.”

At the same time, St. Jean said she often recommends finding ways to “increase social contact safely.”

… Everybody’s been really receptive to the services that we’re providing.– Dana St. Jean, Pandemic Response Therapist, Canadian Mental Health Association’s Windsor-Essex County Branch

“Is it over Zoom? Over Facetime? Over the phone? Things like that,” she said. “If they can go outside within their own yard, practising that mindfulness, just so they can ground themselves during this time.”

For those Windsor-Essex residents who don’t have access to video chat technology or those in need of urgent care, Laura Liebrock, director of primary care at the CMHA’s Windsor-Essex branch, explained that a partnership with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare has been a boon.

“We do have a mental health and addictions urgent care centre here,” Liebrock said. “If people are experiencing a mental health concern, they don’t need to go to the emergency department. They can walk in.”

Liebrock said she’s seeing more people reach out for help as well.

“Mind you, there’s still some fear and anxiety there, which is natural,” she said. “It will take time, I think, as a commnity to get back into place in that way.”

For her part, St. Jean said she’s been taking steps to practise what she preaches, in order to maintain her own mental health and wellness.

“On the weekends … that’s for me the hardest point, because I’m not busy with work,” she said. “So it’s connecting with people [while] doing the social distancing.”

The CMHA in Windsor-Essex was able to create the pandemic response therapist position thanks in part to a $70,000 donation from the Toldo Foundation. 

Anyone interested in connecting with St. Jean and receiving counselling can do so by contacting the CMHA in Windsor-Essex by calling: 519-973-4435.

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