May 10, 2021

Social work practicum student connects long-term care workers with mental health resources through social media

Instagram ideal platform for Elizabeth Onofrychuk to disseminate vital content on stress and resilience
Phone displaying Capital Care Resiliency Instagram Post
Zoltan Varadi

The terrible price the pandemic has exacted on residents of long-term care facilities is nothing short of staggering, with LTCs accounting for an estimated 69 per cent of fatalities in Canada. The emotional toll of this devastation on those who work in such facilities has yet to be determined as the sector finds ways to mitigate the psychological impact of so much stress, illness and death on employees.  

When you're in the middle of an outbreak that goes on for weeks, and sometimes months, and people are isolating and people are dying, I think it's very difficult to wrap your head around that,” says Carole Marriott, manager strategic planning and quality improvement for Edmonton-based Capital Care, one of the largest public continuing care organizations in Canada. “It's a crisis that has really occurred behind closed doors. Even though we know it's happening and it's in the media… that's very different than actually bearing witness to it and understanding it.”

It’s been up to Marriott, a University of Calgary Bachelor of Social Work alumna, to find strategies to help Capital Care staff cope with a previously unfathomable reality. “I started doing a kind of frontline huddle with our staff, so I would actually go out to the centres and talk to them a bit about different aspects of stress and coping,” says Marriott, who also holds a Master of Science in Health Promotion degree from the University of Alberta.

However, the sheer size of Capital Care’s network of facilities — 1,383 continuing care beds in 14 sites across the Edmonton zone — necessitated developing a supplemental communications strategy capable of delivering mental health resources to staff.

Photo of student of Elizabeth Onofrychuk

Social work student Elizabeth Onofrychuk.

Easily accessible and available 24/7, social media provided an ideal platform to disseminate such content; hence the Instagram account @CapitalCareResiliency, which became the responsibility of UCalgary Bachelor of Social Work practicum student Elizabeth Onofrychuk.

“When people are stressed, they have a harder time retaining information and processing it,” says Onofrychuk of the decision to use an image-focused channel like Instagram. “I think having that visually appealing aspect of it kind of helped it be a little bit easier to process.”

Featuring warm colours and clean, inviting graphic design, the account is certainly engaging. Beyond the gloss of the format, though, the account delivers in-depth, high-level content designed to help Capital Care staff build understanding about the stress system and how it works, identifying stress states and difficult-to-tolerate stressors, and how to go about recovering from significant stressors.

 For her part, Onofrychuk says the project heightened her own perception of the messages within the medium.

I would say I went in with maybe a superficial understanding of resilience, but through this practicum, either through consuming resources or talking with Carole about delivering course materials, I have really gained a deeper understanding about stress and resilience.

Marriott has high praise for Onofrychuk and her contributions, singling out her “immense” desire to learn.

“She laid out a learning plan that was ginormous — I’ve no other word for it,” Marriott says with a laugh. “[We] encouraged her to, you know, maybe bring it down a little bit, and she did, but then we had more conversations, and it went back up to being big.”

As her second practicum, Onofrychuk’s experience with Capital Care provided her with a good contrast in approaches to field practices. Whereas she gained a background in working with families at her first placement with The Family Centre, here she was immersed in program development and delivery.

Onofrychuk, who has been nominated twice for Faculty of Social Work Recognition of Excellence in Field Education awards, says the dual experience has been invaluable.

“I definitely think the first practicum sparked a passion for working with families, but I think was able to develop a more well-rounded view of social work through having a macro level practice [at Capital Care].”