Healthcare Workers and Mental Health During COVID-19

Take care of yourself while you’re taking care of others.

May 18, 2020

Our healthcare workers are resilient. They have to be; day in and day out they see people at their absolute worst. They are trained to manage medical emergencies, act quickly in times of crisis and stay steady regardless of the circumstances.

What they’re not trained for is this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic tests resiliency in ways healthcare workers have not experienced. The number of ill and climbing death counts are unseen in this generation. Lack of PPE and other resources plays a larger role than it ever has before. Patients are passing away alone while healthcare workers facilitate good-byes via FaceTime or video chat. Colleagues are getting ill and may die. Couple the stress of battling this virus head-on at work with individual concerns of food, shelter and income insecurities – mental and emotional resiliency will be stretched thin. Compassion fatigue may set in.

For those healthcare and other frontline workers who have pre-existing mental health conditions, or who are battling substance use disorders, this may be especially difficult. We already know that “addiction is a disease of isolation,” so it’s expected that rates of substance misuse will increase. The mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be seen for weeks, months and years to come.

It’s important to remember that everyone will experience these effects differently, and that their recovery will differ as well. Here are some recommendations healthcare and other frontline workers can use to manage their mental health:

  • When you’re off the job, limit checking of social media, watching TV and news outlets. Allow yourself to adequately rest physically, mentally and emotionally while away from work.
  • Lean on your family and community of loved ones for support. Make sure to discuss how you are feeling each day – discuss the good and the bad while celebrating mini victories of the day.
  • When things start to feel overwhelming, make certain to tap into your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you are not comfortable using your EAP, reach out to a counselor or mental health provider you trust to talk through your concerns.
  • Utilize healthy coping mechanisms, such as enjoying nature while maintaining six feet of physical distancing, meditating, tapping into a favorite hobby, playing a game with your children, cooking a meal or baking a new dessert.
  • If you are an employer of frontline workers, show empathy and support for your workers. Communicate frequently and consistently. Work with your benefits provider and make sure to promote this benefit to your employees. Learn more about how you can support your employees.

Prior studies have found the prevalence of mental health problems in disaster-affected populations to be two to three times higher than that of the general population. If you or your co-workers begin to show any of the following, please reach out and seek help, as these can be signs of a long-term condition:

  • Crying spells or bursts of anger
  • Difficulty eating and/or sleeping; increased fatigue
  • Losing interest in things
  • Increased physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Being disoriented or confused
  • Having difficulty solving problems and making decisions
  • Engaging in problematic or risky behaviors, such as taking unnecessary risks, failing to use personal protective equipment, or refusing to follow orders or leave the scene
  • Becoming irritable or hostile in social situations, resorting to blaming and failing to support teammates

Remember, there is nothing stronger than admitting you need help. Know you are never alone. We #SafetySalute all of you. Thank you for keeping all of us safe.

If you or a loved one are experiencing severe mental health distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) to talk with someone now.

Visit NSC.org/Coronavirus for more resources.

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