COVID-19 and the Mental Health Pandemic

Written by: Stephen Fenn, Social Worker

Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost all of us have been focusing on our physical health and keeping ourselves safe. This should be our focus as we navigate these difficult times of surges, variants and vaccine rollout. However, most of us have also experienced another pandemic, one of mental health.

Mental health practitioners around the world have been sounding the alarm over the increase in mental health challenges many have faced throughout this turbulent time. While we may still be able to access support for our physical health during the pandemic, mental health support, which was difficult to find pre-pandemic, has become even more challenging to secure.

The burden of mental health has also disproportionately affected those most vulnerable as communities living with unaffordable housing found this even harder as they lost income. People with chronic conditions, more vulnerable to becoming sick, were faced with increased difficulty accessing community supports or treatment, and increased isolation due the higher risk associated with leaving home. And for those who face discrimination and unequal access to society, hostility and insensitivity increased. The support mechanisms we used before, such as seeing family and friends, became impossible due to the associated risks.

The challenges of this pandemic will continue. Although a focus has been on bringing ourselves back to “normal,” we also need to account for the mental health challenges and trauma many have experienced. Many of us don’t know how to seek support and how to take this first step. But support is available and, although we have faced the last year alone, we don’t have to do this moving forward. SRCHC and many other agencies have mental health supports available. While our goal this past year has been on protecting our physical health, a focus on mental health is just as important and worthy.

According to the World Health Organization, “There is no health without mental health.”

ETHP announces new role to bridge mental health services between hospital and community

ETHP announces new role to bridge mental health services between hospital and community

With more than 25 years of experience working in mental health and addictions services, Raj Sohi is well positioned to take on East Toronto Health Partners’ (ETHP) first shared directorship role. On April 27, Raj began his new role as Director of Mental Health and Substance Use at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) and South Riverdale Community Health Centre. Previously, Sohi served as the director of mental health and addictions services at MGH.

The new position supports ETHP’s vision of creating a system without discharges and providing more seamless access to services for those living with mental health and substance use challenges in East Toronto.

“There are so many opportunities for us to work better together,” says Sohi, who spent 12 years leading mental health services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “By integrating patient pathways between hospital and community, we eliminate unnecessary barriers that so many of our clients face when navigating a complex health and community care system.”

East Toronto is comprised of approximately 300,000 people living in 21 diverse neighbourhoods, with five Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, including: Thorncliffe Park, Victoria Village, Oakridge, Flemingdon Park and Taylor-Massey. East Toronto has higher mental health and addictions needs than the Toronto average. Taylor Massey has one of the highest youth mental health Emergency Department utilization rates in the city.

For the past several months, Sohi has helped propel integrated mental health and addictions services forward in East Toronto by serving as the lead for two ETHP workstreams including: Youth mental health and addictions and adults with needs related to substance use and addictions. Sohi also supported the development of the Oakridge Health and Harm Reduction Hub, a three month pilot project that ran from February to April.

The goal of ETHP is to better connect health care sectors, including hospitals, community, home and primary care, in addition to other health care providers, to make it easier for clients and families to receive more integrated care close to home.

“This shared directorship role represents the next important step in our journey to create an integrated health care system that places patients at the centre of their care,” says Mark Fam, Vice President, Clinical Programs at MGH.

“SRCHC is excited to expand Raj’s shared directorship role to include operational oversight and support of SRCHC’s teams, strengthening the collaborative approach between SRCHC and MGH. This work is a natural progression of the partnerships being built as part of the East Toronto Health Partners and will drive deeper integration of services to our most marginalized clients in their communities,” says Jason Altenberg, Chief Executive Officer, South Riverdale Community Health Centre.

This article is brought to you by ETHP Communications Staff