It’s been six months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic here in the U.S., and nurses all over the country are still fighting the effects. New hotspots are popping up around the Great Lakes, near the Rocky Mountains, and throughout the Midwest. As the layout of the pandemic changes, some nurses are coming to terms with the reality of the moment, while others are reliving the drama they experienced last spring when the virus was ravaging New York, California, and Michigan.
Mental healthcare providers say all this stress and ongoing trauma can be a recipe for disaster if left untreated, especially as the pandemic lingers on.
Kimberly Johnson, a therapist in Long Beach, NY, has been seeing healthcare providers remotely since the start of the crisis. She recently started volunteering with the Emotional PPE Project, which offers free counseling and therapy to healthcare workers who have been impacted by the pandemic. The network currently has over 450 licensed therapists across all 50 states. If you’re having a hard time coping with the new normal, help is nearby.
Waves of Grief and Anxiety
During her work, Johnson has been hearing from providers all over the country. She says this current juncture point in the pandemic is critical.
“In the beginning, a lot of them were in that high-stress, high-response mode. And during that time, they may not be as active and processing what’s going on or what they’ve been through. And now, months later, we’re starting to see the kind of the quieting come in and [their experiences] coming back up for them.”
She will often hear from nurses that spend their days sitting in bed with patients helping them coordinate Zoom calls with family and friends. Many providers are still processing the grief and losses they faced earlier in the year. As the work continues, nurses often don’t have the means or time to come to terms with their experiences as they juggle life, work, and their own health concerns.
Instead of nurses telling her they want to leave the profession, Johnson says many of them are looking for ways to keep going as they continue to combat the pandemic.
She recalls, “The people that come to me are not necessarily talking about, ‘I want out.’ It’s, ‘Is what I’m experiencing normal? When will it get better? How can I help myself and my family?’ It’s really people looking at how I can continue to do the work I’m doing and doing the quality of work I’m doing with this situation as it is.”
While the pandemic is anything but normal for many people, Johnsons says what these providers are going through is similar to trauma we’ve seen in the past.
She compares it to what happened after 9/11. “Difficulty sleeping, problems with eating, problems with, you know, ruminations about what happened, issues with frustration and anger, depression. It’s a lot of similarity there.”
Free Help on Demand
The Emotional PPE Project, which launched over the summer, is looking to help providers who have been affected by the pandemic, including nurses, EMTs, physicians, and home living aides, as well as licensed therapists that want to donate their services to those in need.
If you’re looking for help, just open the website, select your state, and you’ll see a number of experienced mental health providers along with their training and specialties, such as depression, PTSD, and couples and family therapy. No bills or insurance required. All the providers are volunteers, which creates a network of goodwill.
The project originally started as a pilot program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It soon branched out across the country as more therapists were conducting sessions online.
Ariel Brown, PhD, founder of The Emotional PPE Project, says it’s all about increasing access to care. Talking about the initiative, she says:
“Many healthcare professionals are uninsured or underinsured and are concerned there may be personal and professional consequences if they use employee-based services like employee assistance programs (EAPs). Because the Emotional PPE Project is independent from any other institution, and all services are free, key barriers that may stop people from getting support have been removed.”
The project is just a directory of providers, so nurses don’t have to worry about sharing confidential information with a third-party.
Those who want to support their fellow nurses can also donate to the project online to make sure other providers can get the support they need.
If you are struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to ask for help.