The coronavirus pandemic has created a new normal for healthcare workers. Nurses and doctors now find themselves competing over limited supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE), watching their patients die at an accelerating rate, and working around the clock to save as many lives as they can. As the healthcare industry races to keep up with demand, some in the field have warned of the potential for a second pandemic: a mental health crisis among our nation’s healthcare workers.
Providers around the country are suffering from depression, increased anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and less job satisfaction as they try to respond to the growing number of coronavirus patients. Some facilities are using teletherapy to help their staff members cope with their feelings amid this stressful time, but not every care provider is able to do that – many of them have to push their feelings aside so they can focus on the task at hand.
If you have noticed that your mental health has started to suffer since the beginning of the pandemic, learn more about the latest coping strategies.
Tracking the Mental Health of COVID-19 First Responders
It may be awhile before we understand the full psychological toll of the pandemic, but some early studies suggest that first responders are taking the heat. A recent study from China shows that around half of providers that cared for COVID-19 patients now suffer from depression and anxiety, while a third are suffering from insomnia.
Here in the U.S., health officials worry the same thing is happening in this country. Huge swaths of our nation’s providers could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months and years following the pandemic.
Some facilities have started directing their workers to teletherapy, so they can still access mental health services amid the outbreak. In fact, most therapists and psychologists have switched to teletherapy since the beginning of the outbreak. Many mental health providers now offer extended hours, considering they are working from home, while others have started cutting their rates to help those with limited financial resources.
How the Pandemic Can Affect Your Mental Health
Everyone is reacting to the pandemic differently, but we’ve started noticing some trends among the nation’s healthcare providers:
- Many nurses and doctors have reported experiencing a sense of hopelessness and less job satisfaction during the pandemic. Providers may see several patients die during the course of a single shift.
- The in-person nature of the job has suffered as well. Nurses now find themselves checking up on patients without saying a word. Many patients can’t hear over the noise of ventilators and breathing machines. Nurses also can’t get too close to their patients. They may be unable to hold their hand, give them a hug, or wipe the saliva or tears off their faces. Instead of talking to patients, some providers now have to rely on compassionate facial expressions and body language.
- Like much of the rest of the country, healthcare providers are also separated from their family and loved ones during this time. They may have to live apart from loved ones to limit the spread of disease or stay in separate rooms.
- Working with limited PPE is also taking a toll on the mental health of care providers. Some nurses and doctors may have to reuse PPE for days on end, thus increasing their chances of exposure to the virus. We’ve even heard reports of staff members getting into fights over who gets access to this equipment, driving a wedge between coworkers.
Doctors Helping Doctors
If the coronavirus outbreak leads to a wave of PTSD cases, many healthcare providers may find themselves on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship if they choose to seek care.
Doctors and care providers often don’t make the best patients. Some providers believe that as a trained medical professional, they should be able to take care of themselves. Others may choose to focus on the health and wellbeing of their patients instead of dealing with their own feelings and mental health.
Some care providers will be more open to the idea of going to therapy and working through their PTSD than others, but everyone should be able to find the care they need during this time.
Tips for Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
- Don’t overlook the importance of self-care during this time. If your team is working around the clock, make sure they get enough sleep before coming into work the next day. Avoid overscheduling your workers despite the growing number of cases. If your workers have to take care of their families as well, be flexible to help them keep up with these additional demands.
- Help your colleagues cope with the reality of serving on the front lines by making sure they have someone to talk to about their feelings, whether it’s a roommate, loved one, friend, or a teletherapist. Reach out to local mental healthcare providers to see if they can take on new patients. You can also start a facility-wide support group to help your colleagues come together during this time. If someone seems resistant to discuss their feelings or how the pandemic has affected their mental health, let them know help is available.
- The American Medical Association is also offering free premium access to its Headspace app, a tool to help professionals manage their stress and anxiety at the end of a long day, to any US-based healthcare professional with a National Provider Identifier (NPI). Log in to create a free account.
- Try to help your colleagues focus on the good they’re doing even if they can’t get close to their patients or check in with them as often as they’re used to.
- Monitor the mental health of your team as you continue to respond to the pandemic. If someone seems like they are having a rough day or can no longer focus on the task at hand, pull them aside or consider assigning them to a different ward.
- Encourage your team to talk openly about their feelings. No one should be made to feel as if their feelings or opinions are not welcome.
- Visit the AMA website to learn more about managing your mental health during the pandemic.
- If you find yourselves fighting over PPE or the latest infection prevention guidelines, do your best to come up with a system that works for everyone. No one should have to expose themselves to the virus, including janitors, cafeteria workers, social workers, and other facility personnel. Take the time to explain the reasoning behind these policies, so they make sense to your team.
Keep these ideas in mind to make sure your team can handle the added stress and anxiety of working during the pandemic. Help is only a phone call away.