The connection between physical and mental health: A patient’s virtual care story

At times it is hard to remember what we did before COVID-19 became a noun, adverb and acronym, seemingly overnight. 

The impact on people’s lives is immeasurable. 

Here is one person’s story about the time before COVID-19 hit Nova Scotia, and how he was able to adjust with the use of his phone and clinical care and support.

Tom (not his real name) started his journey in our health care system a few years ago. 

At the time, a chronic physical pain problem was causing a constant burning sensation. 

It was affecting his ability to move and get a good night’s sleep. 

But Tom, in his role of husband and father, felt he had to shoulder the toll it was taking in silence.

According to Tom, his wife and family doctor were supportive from the beginning. 

His doctor put him off work on short term illness. But Tom’s guilt about not fulfilling what he thought was his responsibility caused him to minimize the impact the pain was having on his physical and mental wellbeing, and he went back to work.

The constant burning in his joint continued and intensified. 

When he did admit the real impact, his doctor responded right away with an order to place him on long term illness. 

But several unsatisfactory dealings between Tom and his health insurance provider led to sleepless nights on top of the chronic pain and burning sensation, and his ability to cope deteriorated even further.

Tom’s mental health was drastically affected. 

His wife was concerned and insisted he go to the local emergency department. There, he encountered a psychiatrist who referred him to a clinical psychologist.  

According to Tom, “if someone had told me two years ago that I would be talking with a psychiatrist and then a psychologist, I wouldn’t have believed them.”

It wasn't easy, but over time, and with the support of his wife and family doctor, Tom accepted the help he needed when it mattered most. He speaks warmly about this connection with his clinician, saying, “he helps me talk about whatever it is that is bothering me."

When the Nova Scotia Government announced the state of emergency on March 22, 2020, Nova Scotia Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program shifted 50 per cent of outpatient visits to be delivered virtually (by phone or video platform ) to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Virtual care has been shown to be as satisfactory as in-person services for clients, patients and their families; however, some patients do require in-person appointments to best meet their needs. 

In-person appointments continue to be available with public health protocols in place to keep patients and clinicians safe.  

Tom has continued to be supported in recovery by his clinician during the pandemic by phone. When asked how he felt about connecting with his health care provider virtually, Tom said, "Why wouldn't I, he saved my life."

There are many patients like Tom whose mental health has been affected by their physical injuries. 

The toll of a physical injury can make it difficult to cope with the changes in a person’s life. 

Seeking mental health support for a physical injury can help with both the life transition and recovery to help people get back to their regular life.

We are here to help.

The Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line is available 24/7 for individuals or their loved ones. Toll-free:1-888-429-8167 

Mental Health and Addictions Program Intake Service
1-855-922-1122 (toll-free)Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Self-referrals are welcomed, as well as referrals by family doctors, health care providers and community support groups to our Community Mental Health and Addictions clinics, Withdrawal Management Services, or Opioid Replacement and Treatment Programs.

To learn more about our services, common conditions or to access e-mental health online resources, please visit us online at www.mhahelpNS.ca