Carl* is a patient of ours at PsycHealth at HSC Winnipeg. He’s been battling severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for about five years.
OCD is a condition where people have certain thoughts or compulsions that feel impossible to control and can wreak havoc with everyday life. It could manifest itself as checking over and over again to make sure you’ve shut off the stove or locked the door; or feeling intense agitation unless things are organized in a certain way. OCD can make it difficult to leave home; at its worst, it can lead to suicide.
That’s what Carl has been facing. Through COVID-19, his condition has intensified. He cares for his elderly parents and, through the pandemic, he has been trying to cope with his debilitating fear for their well-being and his own feelings of remorse for not being able to protect them.
Under normal circumstances, Carl would have probably come in to see me or one of my colleagues. He might have been admitted to the hospital for a couple of weeks. Through the pandemic he hasn’t been able to leave home and is afraid of getting COVID-19. He is staying safe from the coronavirus, but he was in mortal danger for a while as he contemplated suicide.
Carl cried out for help. Through video calls, we were able to help him with talk therapy and we were able to adjust his medications. He also joined virtual cognitive behaviour therapy group sessions that helped him manage his depression. Carl has a long way to go, but with technology we were able to see him through some dark days and save his life.
I don’t want to take the pandemic lightly and talk about “silver linings”. People are getting ill and dying from COVID-19, and my colleagues throughout HSC are working under tremendous stress.
That said, we are learning some remarkable lessons about how technology can be used to help patients like Carl. I had a similar case a few weeks ago with Amanda, a 21-year-old who was using cannabis to treat her anxiety. Unfortunately, she overused to the point she was experiencing psychosis and suicidal thoughts. Again, with video technology, we were able to work with Amanda and her family on strategies to reduce her cannabis use and provide medications for her depression and anxiety. Amanda is safe for now, and thanks to technology, she will be able to access us regularly.
It might surprise you to learn that one out of every three Manitobans will deal with a mental health issue in their lifetime. One out of every three. The good news is that the vast majority of people recover quickly with timely access to effective treatments.
It is therefore essential that we continue to learn more about mental health and seek innovative treatments to help people live better lives. This means research, evaluation, and testing new approaches based on emerging knowledge.
At HSC, this includes figuring out how we can make better use of communications technology in providing care, ever after the pandemic. I really believe that the best medical visit is the home visit. Virtual care is particularly well-suited for patients dealing with mental health issues, and has been successfully used to improve patient and family experiences, especially during a crisis. We are also exploring the amazing impacts exercise has on mental health (we’ve already had great success with a yoga program that donors funded and, with your support, we will launch a guided “spin cycle” program for inpatients). We’re working on other innovative mental health care approaches, too.
With your support, we will learn more about depression, OCD, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and many other mental health conditions. And we will be able to provide better mental health care to Manitobans.
We are living in unusual and very stressful days. I feel it. I’m sure you feel it, too. I encourage you to maintain your own mental health through the pandemic and beyond. Connect with friends and family. Exercise and eat well. Get enough sleep. Deeply feel the gratitude for all that is good in your life. Be kind.
I invite you to express your gratitude and kindness with a gift today to the HSC Foundation. Your support will allow our important research and health care initiatives to move forward. Your support will help HSC take care of Manitobans during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Thank you for your consideration. Stay safe,
Dr. Jitender Sareen
Department Head, Psychiatry, University of Manitoba
Provincial Specialty Lead, Mental Health and Addictions, Shared Health
Health Sciences Centre
*Names have been changed.