Will the third wave be that of mental health?

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Yanik Dumont Baron (access the author's page)

Clinical calm reigns in the corridors of the reception unit of the La Chartreuse hospital in Dijon. A few caregivers are chatting on the phone on the other side of a thick window.

A handful of patients are gathered in the cafeteria for the midday meal. A calm, but deceptive atmosphere, explains Cédric Dutartre, one of the managers of the patient reception unit.

We're busy, yes people aren't doing well. There are seating problems to the hospital. You have to find a bed for one, home care for the other.

A description of the daily challenges that applies to any hospital receiving patients with COVID-19. Except that at this hospital center, we treat the psychological after-effects of the coronavirus.

In the Dijon region, La Chartreuse is the main drop-off point for many cases of psychiatric distress. Patients are referred there by doctors or sometimes present on their own.

Today the waiting room is empty. Yesterday, the scene was much more animated, explains Cédric Dutartre.

Sometimes patients are restless, they get impatient because the wait times can be long.

Cédric Dutartre, a manager of the patient reception unit

The hospital takes in the most severe cases, of course. But mental health experts in the region report that the needs are growing and pressing.

Destabilizing, the second confinement

Stress, difficult sleep, increasing alcohol consumption. There are many signs of psychological difficulties, explains Dr. Gérard Milleret, one of the managers of the hospital center.

This is the illustration of a difficulty in being well in everyday life because, this confinement is still staying at home, living in a way that is not very, very fantastic, he recalls.

Doctor MIlleret, masked, in his office.

Doctor Gérard Milleret, one of the managers of the La Chartreuse hospital in Dijon.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanik Dumont Baron

This second confinement may be lighter than the previous one, but the novelty of the ordeal has given way to weariness and gloom.

The future is also more difficult to see. It will be possible to cross the country to celebrate the end of the year with relatives. But what will everyday life look like in February or May?

A fog that can become very scary. Especially if it is accompanied by professional anxieties related to the economic difficulties of companies.

The population is put in a very destabilizing situation, explains Dr. Milleret. Especially since the crisis has been with us for nine months now.

This long period, it is very anxiety-provoking, it is a source of anxiety, he says. The psychiatrist points to the volume of information available on the disease or the daily reports of contamination.

The news? Try to listen to the minimum, he advises.

Anyone can be affected

The director general of health recently spoke about the impact of the second lockdown on the morale of his fellow citizens. The number of French people affected by depressive or anxious episodes doubled between the end of September and the beginning of November.

One in five French people would be affected. Those who seek help will see their family doctor first. Difficult, therefore, to properly measure the extent of the problem which can affect almost everyone.

Head of the sleep laboratory at La Chartreuse, Dr Clément Guillet receives patients who have relapsed. They also see new patients who have trouble projecting themselves, others for whom isolation, it's unbearable.

In front of windows.

Doctor Clément Guillet, head of the sleep laboratory at the La Chartreuse hospital center.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanik Dumont Baron

The fear of being infected destabilizes many.

We've seen patients raving about it. Others, more on a hypochondriac slope, are terribly anxious at the idea of ​​going out and wash their hands too frequently.

These troubles do not spare caregivers, themselves erected as real superheroes in the spring. The beneficial effects of these incentives have faded; mental health has sometimes weakened.

I saw several caregivers in burnout, explains Clément Guillet. There is also caregivers who relapsed into alcohol while stabilized, some working (in intensive care), exhausted, facing death all the time.

What will I do with my future?

This crisis does not spare the youngest either.

The Chartreuse has a section dedicated to child psychiatry. A unit where a few teenagers with suicidal thoughts reside temporarily.

Specialists in schools and universities in the region are in contact with Pierre Besse, the head of the child psychiatry unit. Echoes that reach him also speak of distress and anxiety.

In one of the corridors of the hospital.

Psychiatrist Pierre Besse, head of the child psychiatry unit.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanik Dumont Baron

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At home, these teenagers have parents who are worried, worried about the future.

The result: young people who have to deal with their anxieties and those of the adults around them.

There is a climate of general gloom, he notes. We see the effects of this with young people who are in a sort of spite about the future.

From smile to sadness through disarray.

A measure of the appreciation of a day in one of the rooms dedicated to adolescents at La Chartreuse.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yanik Dumont Baron

At the psychic level, Pierre Besse is convinced that young people, and in particular students, are the most affected by all the upheavals resulting from this pandemic.

The future plans of 18-24 year olds are called into question, they are sometimes referred to as irresponsible people having fun at night rather than staying wisely at home.

They are in a sort of annoyance (…) saying to themselves: "but ultimately, what am I going to do with my future?"

Pierre Besse, head of the child psychiatry unit

The fear of isolation often comes up in the mouths of specialists like Pierre Besse. After greeting his patients, he tells us that many are reluctant to leave the psychiatric hospital at the end of their stay.

Most don't want to leave. They have a place here where they can be together, share things. And right now, that's what's missing everywhere else.

Yanik Dumont Baron is Radio-Canada correspondent in Paris

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