"SARS has been stressful both for people who have been personally affected by it and for members of the public who have questions and concerns about the illness," said Dr. Peter Selby, Head of CAMH's Nicotine Dependence Clinic and Assistant Professor, Departments of Family and Community Medicine, Public Health Sciences and Psychiatry, University of Toronto. Selby came up with the idea for the online support when two of his medical colleagues from other health care centres developed SARS.
"At a time when there is restricted access to the health care system, this medium allows for the delivery of service to a segment of the population with access to the Internet, including health care workers, at a very reasonable cost to the system. The technology allows for the delivery of sophisticated information and self-help tools as well as links to the latest information on SARS," said Dr. Peter Farvolden, a research scientist in CAMH's Clinical Research Department. Farvolden, along with Dr. David Goldbloom, CAMH Physician-in-Chief, and David Marsh, Clinical Director, Addiction Medicine, are involved with the development of the site.
Selby envisions the web site as being used by people who are in quarantine; patients in isolation who have SARS but who are well enough to use a computer and who have little support because contact is limited due to restrictions; and members of the public who are feeling stressed by the SARS situation and who want to educate themselves on ways to cope with the stress. It was estimated in April 2003 that there were over 6 million Internet searches for SARS information worldwide.
The site will have a section for health care providers and another for the lay public with a confidential password protected online support group moderated by a trained health care professional. The support group will be anonymous and free for anyone to use. Initially, it will be offered in English only, but translation will be explored
CAMH is sponsoring the site and has contracted with V-CC Inc., a Toronto-based software company experienced in online collaborative self-help, to host the site. "One of the most important aspects of our program is that we show people they are not alone," said Trevor van Mierlo, Managing Director for V-CC. "And when provided with the right tools and information, our visitors feel as if they have greater control."
The web site will be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of the medium as a means to respond to other acute stressors, disasters and/or epidemics, for example bioterrorism, and West-Nile virus.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is a Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre and a teaching hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.
For further information, please contact Anne Ptasznik, CAMH Media Relations Coordinator, at 416-595-6015.