How to Manage COVID-19 Impact on the Mental Health of Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers (HCWs) across the globe are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 impact at an unprecedented level.

Frontline HCWs are working under extreme pressure for long hours in a high-risk environment. Mental health issues among healthcare professionals are higher than ever.

They have to deal with:

  • increased risk of infection
  • worried about contracting the virus and infecting their families
  • a drastic change in work hours
  • unable to deliver high-quality care
  • dispensing limited resources to patients
  • deal with their own physical and mental health issues
  • balance their life at work and home
  • provide treatment and care to patients with insufficient facilities
  • death of a family member, friend, co-worker, and patients due to the infection
  • personal and relationship problems
  • receiving and giving bad news

Such situations expose HCWs to the risk of:

  • Mental health problems - depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide ideation
  • Moral injury - If your actions or lack of them defy ethics, then it may cause significant distress in you, thereby resulting in moral injury. It may result in significant mental health challenges.

People with moral injury will experience negative thoughts and feelings of guilt or disgust.

Mostly those who work in emergency care experience moral injury when exposed to and are unprepared to deal with certain situations or trauma. The COVID-19 pandemic is definitely that.

Now more than ever, managers must safeguard the mental health of healthcare workers. They need to identify those who are dealing with mental health issues and provide them with appropriate support and care.

Appreciate and acknowledge

Acknowledge the challenging work tackled by the HCWs, thank, and appreciate their efforts. It will help them deal with the difficulties they have faced with a positive attitude. It shows that they can depend on the support of their managers.

If you recognize potential mental health challenges in your staff, then provide relevant information about support available to them.

Prepare them for ethical and moral dilemmas

HCWs will inevitably face moral dilemmas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Help them make sense of such distressing conditions. Preparing them for these challenges will reduce the risk of psychological issues.

Avoid making false promises or play the blame game. Instead, be frank and open about what they may face in this situation.

Provide HCWs and staff with a platform to talk about emotional and other challenges they may face at work.

Avoid "Avoidance"

Avoidance is a major sign of trauma. Contact HCWs and staff who are unavailable, uninterested, not turning up to work, or too busy. These signs may indicate poor psychological health. Team leaders must support and refer them to therapists or mental health practitioners if needed.

Care for high-risk groups

Focus more on high-risk groups such as junior-level staff, trainees, or anyone who is not experienced enough to handle work that is exceeding their level of competence.

For example, outpatient nurses may have taken on the responsibilities of working beyond their usual role by caring for ventilated patients. They may be overwhelmed or show signs of grief or suffering.

Such people who have already dealt with significant trauma might be more susceptible to mental health problems.

"Back to normal" work training

All HCWs should receive "back to normal" work training once the pandemic lessens. Managers and supervisors must handle this transition from high-risk crisis response to normality.

It will allow managers to better understand an HCW's experience of trauma during the pandemic. It will promote the fact that it is okay to be not okay, everyone is prone to mental fatigue, and we all can beat it.

Active-monitoring of HCWs

The significant trauma caused by the coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of frontline healthcare workers at a higher risk of developing mental health issues. Managers should actively monitor such individuals.

Encourage using an online self-check tool with mental health advice and information on self-help and professional care. These tools, while maintaining the anonymity of the user, will make them much more open to mental health care and also identify those in need of help.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on HCWs could be long-lasting. Healthcare managers and supervisors must now recognize the challenges faced by HCWs and other staff.

Supporting them will lower the risk of mental illness. Help them deal with trauma and provide them with relevant resources, care, and support.

After all, they are the frontline warriors.

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