SUDBURY -- Bell Let's Talk Day has created a lot of important discussions, and nowhere is that talk more important than for those on the frontline who are helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Time and time again, they have answered the call, showing up for work at hospitals like Health Sciences North to keep their friends, loved ones and neighbours healthy.

"Mental health and addiction is so important because, in some ways, it's present in all of our lives," said interim clinical manager Jason Seguin. "It's something that impacts us all and with the pandemic, it's even more challenging."

Seguin said one of the biggest challenges for mental-health workers is self-care and remembering to take care of their own needs.

"It does have quite an impact on all our folks, from our doctors to our support staff and cleaning staff, our clerical," he said. "What a lot of people don't realize is that many of us during this pandemic continue to come on-site -- and even those of us that are not on-site continue to provide service."

At the breaking point

One of the large groups Seguin is referring to is nurses who, according to Public Health Ontario, make up the largest percentage of healt care workers COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

A new survey for the Registered Practical Nurses Association found almost three-quarters of RPNS have reported reaching a breaking point related to their job over the past several months.

The mental-health toll and the financial stressors have also led to one in three considering leaving the profession altogether.

"I've been a nurse for 42 years," said CEO Dianne Martin. "My mom was a nurse her whole life and my daughter's a nurse, but it is the first time that I have experienced nurses in any large group saying I have a limited time in this profession. Generally speaking, nurses are nurses for life."

Martin said nurses have to stop being referred to as heroes because there are many days where it's too difficult just to get up and put on that cape.

"We need them not to feel like they've failed, we need them to feel like … we understand when it's really hard," she said

The association represents more than 47,000 RPNs from across the province and they were in all sorts of areas, including those impacted by COVID-19.

Their counterparts echoed similar sentiments in a statement from the Ontario Nurses' Association about how the pandemic has been tough for all those on the frontline.

'Nurses are exhausted, stressed'

"Nurses are exhausted, stressed, and they are suffering as a result," said president Vicki McKenna. "They also experience the same isolation and separation from family and friends as everyone else. They also no longer have the time to debrief one another together ... a practice which was common and provided much-needed opportunities to support one another."

McKenna said no one on the frontline should be left alone and, as part of Bell Let's Talk Day, she's asking them to reach out to their colleagues, friends and family.

In the meantime, Seguin at Health Sciences North is also hopeful people are taking time for reflection.

"We try to make sure that's part of the regular conversation and discussion and the other piece with this self-care, it's not only within the workplace but it's also in your home, our home lives but it's for everyone in general," he said.

"It's OK not to be OK."