Coping with COVID groups helping patients

West Park psychologists providing COVID-19 supports for patients

Coping With COVID

Mental health has taken centre stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people facing anxiety, depression, and uncertainty – sometimes for the first time. As mental health professionals offered coping skills for essential workers and those dealing with isolation, West Park Healthcare Centre’s psychologists jumped into action to provide supports for the hospital’s patients. 

Dr. Sharon Jankey, Psychologist, Clinical Psychology, and Dr. Gillian Rowe, Neuropsychologist, saw the need for mental health supports for West Park’s patients and their families.  They worked quickly to develop a curriculum around COVID-19, which they called COPING with COVID, and launched the groups in April, 2020.

The curriculum, which included topics like anxiety, social isolation, and even sleeping habits, originated as a daily teleconference before moving to a more engaging video platform on Zoom. The COPING with COVID patient group continued to meet daily up until October of 2020, when it moved to a weekly meeting to spread out content.

“Dr. Rowe and I really wanted to start offering support as soon as possible,” says Dr. Jankey. “But once we got going, the patients were really engaged and they still had an appetite for consistent meetings. So, now we meet weekly and the format is less of a curriculum and more of a support group for patients.”

When the group first started meeting, patients from both rehabilitation and complex continuing care (CCC) programs were joining the discussion for information around COVID-19. Patients  learned coping skills and mental health strategies to deal with the uncertainty, constant change, and fear that came with being hospital-bound during a pandemic. 

Over time, the average number of attendees has lessened from around 20 patients per meeting to a consistent group of seven to eight, mostly CCC patients. 

“The patients who attend now are mostly our long-stay patients, and it’s a much more manageable group to offer support and discussion,” Dr. Jankey says. “We talk about what’s going on at the Centre and in the community, and reinforce information about the vaccine, physical distancing, and masking.”

Dr. Jankey also notes that patients who are part of the Quality of Life Committee and the Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC) attend the COPING with COVID meetings and can offer information and ideas to other attendees. 

Dr. Jankey and Dr. Rowe also put together a similar group for patients’ families, which continues to meet monthly.

With the pandemic’s public health measures and restrictions heading towards a second year, the two doctors heading the COPING with COVID groups are happy to help patients and families with their concerns and mental health, and they have no plans of stopping any time soon.

“The group provides so much more than just coping skills, but it really expands patients’ worlds, albeit virtually,” Dr. Jankey explains. “It’s important for patients to be able to see each other over Zoom, share updates about their lives, and even share recommendations for audio books or virtual social events.” 

With so much uncertainty in patients’ lives, Dr. Jankey emphasizes the importance of always “grounding patients back into what they have control over,” and giving them the space and opportunity to seek support on an ongoing basis.   

The COPING with COVID patient group meets on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m., and the family group meets on the first Wednesday of every month from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. Zoom login details for both groups can be found here.