June 5, 2020 ● 2 min read
By Claire Pedersen
Healthcare workers have always been modern day superheroes. During the recent pandemic, many have focused on the keeping these heroes safe through supplying personal protective equipment (PPE); less discussed is the threat that increased stress poses to healthcare workers’ mental health.
The healthcare environment was already challenging, with many workers enduring 12-hour shifts and navigating irregular schedules. Now, these pressures are amplified by the unknowns brought about by the novel coronavirus. The truth is: the COVID-19 pandemic presents a public mental health emergency that requires immediate attention by healthcare organizations.
The healthcare workers behind the masks are people too — people with their own families, anxieties, and needs.
A study conducted in China found that healthcare workers are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, a study conducted among hospitals in Italy shows that 49.83% of healthcare workers are experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome. We need to remember that the healthcare workers behind the masks are people too — people with their own families, anxieties, and needs.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare workers of have abstained from goodnight kisses to their children, embraces with partners, and the many forms of simple physical connection that the rest of us take for granted. Others have opted to completely isolate from their families, living separately in order to avoid bringing the virus into their homes. This limitation in family connection is a barrier to workers’ core support system; while mid-shift phone calls and goodnight video chats can help, they aren’t a replacement for human touch.
Beyond the stressors within healthcare workers’ own families, restrictions on hospital visitors have required many front-line workers serve as surrogates for their patients’ families. As their patients lay suffering and dying, unable to share their final moments in the presence of loved ones, our healthcare heroes have held their hands. They’ve shared their phones to make video chats between patients and their families possible. You can imagine the toll that several months of this caregiver responsibility would have on anyone’s mental health.
How We Can Help
We all have a role to play in protecting our communities’ healthcare workers. Our role was developing the Heroes Health Initiative in order to provide free and confidential weekly screenings to COVID-19 workers and make mental health resources more accessible. Yours may be to check in with the healthcare workers in your life and offer a listening ear.
Healthcare workers are, and always have been, heroes. Together, let’s give them the support they need and deserve.