Healthy life balance, supporting colleagues are key during COVID-19 epidemic: JGH Chief of Psychiatry

Our health care workers are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Karl Looper, JGH Chief of Psychiatry
Our health care workers are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Karl Looper, JGH Chief of Psychiatry

The 360 employee newsletter asked Dr. Karl Looper, Chief of Psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital and Co-Director of the‎ Mental Health Program of our CIUSSS, for his thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak and how it might affect staff.

Here are Dr. Looper’s remarks.

Staff members are being encouraged to pay attention to not just their physical well-being, but their mental health as well. What sorts of issues are they coping with?

One of the most distressing problems has been to deal with the unknown, including how to protect ourselves, how severe will the crisis be, and will we ourselves or someone close to us be harmed by the virus.

These concerns are superimposed on other life problems such as family members that may have lost their jobs, financial hardship, caring for young children or older members of the family that are particularly at risk, and the related fear for those on the front line that they could bring back the virus to loved ones.

Anything else?

Sometimes some very pragmatic issues add to the stress, such as getting to work when you are used to using public transit which may now be feared as a risk of contagion.

The COVID-19 outbreak has been unprecedented in many ways. But are there any indicators from the past that can help us understand how this pandemic might affect us?

Our most recent experience in Canada that serves as a comparison is the SARS epidemic in 2003. Toronto was one of the heavily affected areas of the world. Studies from that experience showed that almost half of physicians and a third of health care workers experienced significant psychological distress related to caring for SARS patients.

What can help alleviate the stress?

There has been a lot of appreciation from the public of our health care workers who are really the heroes of the pandemic.

I think we have to both acknowledge the remarkable work they are doing as well as the distress they may be having. Good communication from the leadership of the hospital, and information from our infection control experts is essential to giving our staff a sense of security. Efforts are being made for people to work from home or through telehealth where possible.

Can you offer any personal advice?

We all need to remember to try to retain a healthy balance, with some physical activity, getting outside in the daylight for a walk, getting enough sleep and eating well. We need to keep in touch and reach out to friends and family to maintain social contact in spite of social distancing.

Probably the most important thing we can do is support one another, meaning checking in with our colleagues to make sure they are holding up, and to direct them to support if needed.

If you are in need of psychological help or support, call our confidential counselling service for staff and managers (514-265-6588 or 514‑266‑2529) or our CIUSSS’s 24-hour Employee Assistance Program at 1-877-257-5557.

Physicians can contact the Quebec Physicians’ Health Program (QPHP) at (514) 397-0888, toll-free at 1 (800) 387-4166, or email at