MONTREAL -- A Montreal clinical psychologist practice is offering a trio of free sessions to people working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis and those who lost income or health insurance coverage due to the pandemic.

“It’s kind of a way to get people to take the initial step,” said Dr. Wendy Wood. “And that in and of itself can be helpful for people.”

Since the crisis began, calls to the office for clinical services have dropped, and spots opened for Wood and her associates to offer sessions by phone or video conference.

“Normally we have a pretty long wait list and I generally get 15 to 20 calls a week, so that’s about 80 new people a month,” she said. “But since the start of the pandemic, that has decreased dramatically to maybe a couple of calls a week.”

Wood and her associates know that stress, anxiety and a number of mental health issues are on the rise during the pandemic.

“We know that people are struggling right now, and they’re not reaching out,” said Wood. “I thought this was kind of a way to encourage people to take the first steps.”

Space is limited and the cap on free appointments is three. In addition to health care and public security workers, those who lost income due to the lockdown and Quebecers not covered for psychological therapy may visit the website for contact information.

“We’re social creatures, so we need to have people around us, we need to get affection from people and people are stuck at home and experiencing a great deal of isolation,” said Wood. “There’s a lot of loneliness, and in addition to that there’s a lot of grief. People are dying.”

Without being able to hold funerals due to restrictions on gatherings, many are grieving for their loved ones in isolation.

“People are mourning at home alone,” said Wood. “These are uncertain times. We do not know where this is going.”

A Nanos Research poll recently found a significant increase in stress levels among Canadians. According to the poll, 13 per cent said they were stressed all the time (versus four per cent before the crisis) and 33 per cent said they were regularly stressed against 17 per cent at normal times.

“The level of stress has doubled in the populace,” said pollster Nik Nanos.

A recent Canadian Red Cross study found anxiety levels around 40 per cent, depression around 28 per cent, and loneliness levels were around 19 per cent.

Wood said it’s important to establish a routine, eat at a regular time and ensure that you do something pleasurable during the day.

“We need to feel we have a purpose in life,” she said. “When our world gets turned upside down like this, we sort of lose sense of that and feel we don’t have a lot of control over the things in our lives.”

Woods added that it’s important to avoid negative information as much as possible.

“Give yourself a day off from looking at media,” said Wood. “Try to give yourself a couple of hours before you go to bed where you don’t look at your phone… Don’t be on the Internet reading about COVID before you go to bed.”