April 10, 2020
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread, health care workers on the front lines may be suffering from stress and anxiety. Our clinic has developed a list of tips for maintaining mental health during these difficult times.
No one ever functions as an island, especially now. We are all vulnerably interdependent and require that our respective systems are functioning and on solid footing. This is true now more than ever for all of our health care workers on the front lines of this epidemic. Without functional systems in place, supportive structures, and feelings of security related to their own personal safety and home environments, it is unfortunately inevitable that mental health symptoms of various sorts will increase in frequency and intensity. Creating a system of support for our health care workers is a necessity during this outbreak.
Witnessing, helping, and intervening with perpetual traumatic situations, such as what’s occurring for our health care workers on the frontlines of COVID-19, can cause secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and overall mental decompensation. Critical incident stress debriefing done within 72 hours after their respective shifts is a well researched, easily implemented, and viable approach that can serve as a proactive measure aimed at providing support to our frontline workers. Debriefing is a specific technique designed to assist others in dealing with the physical or psychological symptoms that are generally associated with trauma exposure. Debriefing allows those involved with the incident to process the event and reflect on its impact. Ideally, debriefing can be conducted on or near the site of the event (Davis, 1992; Mitchell, 1986).
Self-care is not just a “feel-good” idea but an imperative and proactive part of mental health treatment. Self-care regiments pertaining to time off, food, exercise, family time, mental health treatment, and sleep are paramount for our health care community during this time. We can further encourage this by offering community support in the way of delivery of hot meals, extra staffing procedures, and honoring the time off of our health care workers. Additionally, administrators and management can make checking in with their staff about self-care an integral piece of their protocol.
Supportive psychotherapy and counseling can function as a relief valve and system of support during this intense time. Additionally, counseling can greatly enhance our frontline workers' psychological fortitude and internal bandwidth, allowing them to function more optimally when treating patients and creating an additional self-care measure.
The current situation for our healthcare workers is unique and traumatic. Furthermore, most of our civilian healthcare workers have simply never experienced anything like this. In light of the necessity to prioritize saving lives and making life and death clinical decisions, they will mentally benefit from being relieved of other “typical” responsibilities during this time. Items, such as extraneous paperwork, non-crucial procedural requirements, or bureaucratic administrative requirements, can cause extra pressure and exhaustion, further contributing to the mental health decline of our healthcare workers.
Many psychologists, counselors, and social workers in the greater Austin community have seamlessly switched over to TeleHealth sessions and are reaching out to hospitals, emergency rooms, and surgery centers to help offer accessible mental health treatment and support during this time.
Our community has a significant number of alternative healing professionals. Many of these practitioners and groups are offering free or reduced services for healthcare workers that can be accessed from the comfort of their homes. Some of these services include prayer/meditation services, energy work, and yoga practices.
Our counseling agency has put together a pro-bono support group for first line healthcare workers throughout this crisis. Online support groups are a way to emotionally support and care for our community health care workers as they continue to engage in caring for our community’s ill.