CPA’s Communications Specialist, Eric Bollman talks to CPA’s CEO, Karen Cohen
“The tail of COVID is going to be a long one. It’s going to be psychosocial, and financial. Long after we get vaccines, long after we achieve population immunity, we’re still going to be addressing the psychosocial and financial impacts of living through a pandemic this long.”
Shortly after the NBA announced the suspension of their season on March 11, 2020, there was an all-staff meeting at the CPA head office in downtown Ottawa. The realization was dawning on everyone, and fast, that we were about to enter a different world – both in terms of our own work lives, and in terms of the role of psychology in the world at large.
We knew things were changing – if the NBA could shut down, the rest of the world was not far behind. We knew we’d all be sent home, and we spent that meeting discussing how that would work. Who needed a laptop? Who needed a refresher on Microsoft Teams, having slept through the training session less than a week before? What we did not know was that this would be the last time we saw each other in person for more than a year.
Our CEO, Dr. Karen Cohen, does not follow basketball. For her, the realization was more incremental. But she reached it at the same time, if not a little before, the rest of us. She made the decision to shut down the office and send everybody home.
“We were trying to make the decision that not only would best take care of our workplace, but that would make us a good corporate citizen. It was clear that if the world was going to be successful in managing the pandemic, we had to put in a community effort. “
As the world changed, and the CPA started working from our homes across Ottawa and connecting with people across the country, we realized that psychology was going to have an outsized role to play in helping people and communities manage the pandemic. CPA wanted to help in that effort. Dr. Cohen credits the staff at the CPA for making this transition work, almost seamlessly.
“Everything CPA has been able to contribute to managing the pandemic is to the credit of the association’s leadership, its membership and its staff. From the outset, our goal was to listen and respond to what people needed; what staff needed to work efficiently from home, what individuals and families needed to support each other, what members needed to face disruptions in their work, and what decision-makers needed to develop policies to help communities.
At first though, those lockdowns were not extended – we truly thought we’d be back at work in a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Karen and the rest of the management team made sure to check in, and to cover their bases early on.
“One of the things we did at the outset was to survey staff – asking what’s keeping you up at night? How can we make things better? What are you most concerned about? And not just to ask the questions but to try to do something about them. We developed policies and made decisions that considered the things staff were worried about and responded to what they needed. We realized that psychology had some tools and suggestions to help them cope so we developed a webinar for staff on coping and resilience. We also reached out to staff one on one and really tried to hear them so we could help make things easier for them.”
We then thought that the survey and webinar might be helpful to the staff of other of CPA’s not for profit association partners and we delivered them to about a dozen of them. The survey enabled leaders to better understand the needs of their workplaces and psychology had some tools and suggestions to help workers cope. Something that was created internally, for the use of our own staff, ended up being of value to other organizations and an unforeseen contribution our team has been able to make.
While we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, or what the long-term effects would be, the one group we knew for sure would be affected long-term were frontline health care workers. We were already seeing reports from Italy and Spain of overflowing hospitals, a health care system in crisis, and doctors and nurses overcome with exhaustion and despair. So what could we do?
The first major effort of the CPA during the pandemic was to ask our practitioner members if they would be willing to offer their services to frontline healthcare workers, on an urgent basis, as they faced the stressors of delivering health care services during a pandemic. It seemed essential that the people who were out there fighting against this scourge of a virus had every support possible as they took care of everyone else and, because of their work, faced heightened risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families.
“Hundreds of psychologists came together to do that. It was good for CPA, it was good for psychology, and most importantly, it has been good for the health providers psychologists helped.
From there, it was a question of developing and delivering information, and getting as much of it out to members, decision-makers and Canadians as possible. Psychologists across Canada answered the call to help create more than a dozen COVID-specific fact sheets for students, psychologists, faculty, people working from home and more. Our team developed webinars, started a podcast, and undertook the herculean effort of moving the CPA annual convention online with just a few months notice.
The CPA team has been collaborating with innumerable other organizations and agencies, commissioning surveys and public opinion polls, and advocating for mental health to be front and centre in every governmental pandemic-related decision and policy across Canada. The work is ongoing, and it is not likely to stop any time soon.
“We know that rates of anxiety, depression and substance use have gone up as people cope with this prolonged chronic stressor. We can see the impact managing the pandemic has had on our work, relationships, and wellbeing. Maybe the pandemic has shown us that a pandemic takes as much of a psychological toll on our lives as a biological one. Maybe the pandemic has shown us that managing a critical health event successfully is as much about psychological and social factors as it is about the biological ones. Maybe, governments, workplaces, and insurers will fully realize that mental health matters and that it is time that making investments in mental health care matters too.”