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Mental Health Resource Needs of "Frontline" Healthcare Workers in Rural Manitoba During COVID-19

September 2020

Examining the Mental Health Experiences and Resource Needs of “Frontline” Healthcare Workers in Rural Manitoba, Canada during COVID-19

By: Kyrra Rauch, Candice Waddell, Doug Ramsey, Breanna Lawrence, Margaret de Jager, Nancy Newall, and Rachel Herron

Little research surrounding the mental health needs of healthcare workers in rural communities has resulted in a lack of understanding of their needs during the COVID-19 global pandemic. A team of researchers from Brandon University’s Centre for the Critical Studies in Rural Mental Health aimed to investigate the resource needs of this population by conducting an online survey between May 15th to June 15th, 2020. The participants included registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, licensed practical nurses, health care aides, paramedics, physicians, and individuals in administrative positions. Participants were recruited from all the Manitoba regional health authorities, excluding the Winnipeg Health Region as they are an urban centre, and a total of 137 responses were received.

During the initial phases of the COVID19 pandemic, the present study period, nearly ¼ of healthcare workers reported experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety and ¾ identified facing barriers when accessing mental health resources. Analyses showed a significant positive relationship between anxiety and number of barriers faced accessing mental health resources, indicating that as barriers increased, so did overall anxiety. Another trend in the results was that as the number of coping strategies used increased, overall anxiety decreased. The most common barriers identified by participants included fatigue, not having the time, inconvenience, and fear of judgement. Strategies used to cope included eating regularly and nutritiously, having a good sleep routine, exercising, and consumption of alcohol. These findings were apparent in communities with a population under 10,000 people.

The survey also consisted of two open-ended questions that were analyzed thematically. Common themes included participants feeling isolated and alone and needing more support in all areas of life, from the workplace to the personal. Based on the feedback we received from frontline healthcare workers, in both the quantitative and qualitative data, we formulated a few recommendations. First, the need for clear and timely information in the workplace is necessary. Second, additional staffing and resources is essential. Participants commented on the need for more time for rest and recovery, both physically and mentally, and time for peer support; this time will only be made available with adequate staffing and resources. Most importantly, greater access to confidential, professional mental health resources is imperative.

Based on knowledge of past disease outbreaks, we know that healthcare workers experience symptoms resembling those of PTSD, and these signs are already emerging during COVID19 in our rural Manitoban healthcare workers. With levels of anxiety, barriers, and perceived isolation increasing, we need to provide these health heroes with greater access to confidential, judgement free mental health supports. In short, we need to do more to support the mental health of those who are putting themselves at risk every day in order to keep us safe.

Authors affiliations:
Kyrra Rauch, Centre for Critical Studies of Rural Mental Health, Brandon University
Candice Waddell, Department of Psychiatric Nursing, Brandon University
Doug Ramsey, Department of Rural Development, Brandon University
Breanna Lawrence, Department of Educational Psychology and Student Services, Brandon University
Margaret de Jager, Rural Community Health Lab, Brandon University
Nancy Newall, Department of Psychology, Brandon University
Rachel Herron, Department of Geography and Environment, Brandon University

Nurse Covid