Mental Health and COVID-19: Part 2
Stories from the Frontline
Jazzy Danziger | May 28, 2020
As part of our efforts to map the unique needs and challenges of healthcare workers, we recently shared insights around the mental health impact of COVID-19 on frontline clinicians, nurses, medical administrators and others. It seemed only natural to dig deeper by seeking out frontline medical professionals – all family members or friends of 2e employees – willing to provide firsthand accounts of unique stressors, recommendations for self-care resources and moments of optimism.
Fear of the Unknown
Sue Troy (director of a home care agency): Initially, it was the fear of the unknown that was the root of anxiety for my clinicians. All they knew was the devastating news from China, Italy and then Washington, California and finally New York City. It was getting closer to home. How would they “know” if they were walking into a COVID-19 home? Would they have enough PPE or the right PPE? Would they transmit it to their families and loved ones? All valid concerns. This was weeks away from our first COVID-19 patient.
Anonymous E.R. nurse: Historically, much of nursing is framed using evidence-based practice. But there is no evidence for COVID-19 yet. We have no studies. We have little to no data.
Concerns About PPE
Anonymous E.R. nurse: I work in a rural Emergency Department. Since the first few weeks of March, we have seen our census drop by 50% or greater. It seems that approximately 60% of the patients who come into the ED trigger some sort of screening for COVID-19, which means full PPE. We are instructed to reuse N95 masks. Is that safe? Am I contaminating myself because I’m not touching it correctly?
Ann Roberts (clinical nurse, OR): With the temporary halt to elective surgeries, I have been reassigned to a completely different job screening patients. I have had to learn how to use technology that I’ve never used before: new computer programs, phone technology, sometimes four monitors at once. It was stressful for me initially because I was suddenly thrown into something I’d never done before.
Family and Isolation
Lindy Huff (cardiac nurse): The social isolation we feel is also a huge source of stress. Not being able to spend time with family members, missing birthdays, not being able to play with and hug our grandchildren are all big challenges.
Anonymous E.R. nurse: How do I keep my family safe? I cannot send my children away for months at a time. I cannot burden my husband with sole childcare.
Caring for Patients
Anonymous E.R. nurse: My greatest joy and purpose with nursing is that by spending time with patients I am able to provide them with comfort, to potentially ease their suffering during a difficult time. I am now forced to wear impersonal gear and when I am in the room, I’m attempting to keep the visit as brief as possible (to protect the patients and myself). This is a conundrum. I can’t care for them if I’m not there. And they feel lonely, scared and helpless during a time when they can’t have visitors either.
Ann Roberts: Self-care for me includes talking with sympathetic coworkers. My organization also provides an employee assistance program with 24/7 access to a licensed counselor. In addition, they provide employees with online resources. Healthcare workers in smaller institutions may not have resources like these.
Lindy Huff: We have many resources available: an employee assistance program, a coworker crisis fund, financial education resources, an e-chaplaincy, major disaster PTO donation, United Way 2-1-1 and earned wage access to name a few. We also have a program that offers tips on healthy eating, stress reduction, exercise and meditation.
Anonymous E.R. nurse: Exercising and spending time outdoors has been most helpful. And limiting time spent reading about COVID-19, limiting social media intake. Any counseling services that are available are beneficial.
Reasons for Optimism
Lindy Huff: We have been amazed at the outpouring from our community. Our hospital receives daily donations of food, masks, t-shirts, monetary donations and well wishes.
Ann Roberts: Many patients that I talk to through the call center have thanked me for the dedication of my field. Management at the call center has provided free breakfasts, lunches and other goodies.
Anonymous E.R. nurse: Most of the patients that I have encountered are equal parts scared of the hospital and grateful for the work that healthcare workers are doing. They’ve been more vocal about their appreciation for what we do and that’s nice.
Sue Troy: My clinicians are champions. They have not missed a beat to meet the needs of these patients. I hope that someday they can reflect and appreciate the difference they made for these patients by surrendering their own anxiety and being the epitome of altruism. ‘When “I” becomes “we”, even “illness” becomes “wellness.’”
Stay tuned for more insights from healthcare workers on obstacles to mental health care, managing a team during a crisis and the impact of process and training changes.
If you’re a healthcare worker in need, please see the American Medical Association’s helpful list of strategies and resources for managing your unique mental health . You can also call the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM, or text HELLO to 741741 to reach the free Crisis Text Line 24 hours a day, seven days a week.