Protecting the Mental Health of Front Line Clinicians During the Pandemic

By Suzanne Hughes, MSN, RN  |  April 7, 2020

Today, Monday, April 6, marks the first day of National Public Health Week. If you missed our recent public health-related blogs on the roles of the various public health agencies or our interview with family physician and public health physician Dr. Angela DeJulius, you can check them out on our website.

Each day of National Public Health Week has a theme. Today’s theme is mental health.

At this time of unprecedented demands on front-line clinicians, there has appropriately been a focus on the increased risk that physicians, nurses, and all care providers have of contracting COVID-19, in particular in the face of the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). What we are hearing less about are both the short and the long-term impacts of the coronavirus on mental health of healthcare professionals as a result of their work during these stressful times.

Psychiatric experts report that although frontline clinicians may “soldier on” without showing their emotion, that does not mean that they are not sad, anxious, angry, and afraid. In addition to the often-overwhelming workload they take on, and the human suffering they are seeing every day, they are often faced with being isolated from their own families, particularly if they have opted to live separately from their at-risk family members. The resulting lack of social support intensifies should they be infected and require quarantine. It has been demonstrated that during the SARs epidemic, clinicians who were quarantined were at risk, both short and long-term, for PTSD and depression, sometimes to the extent that they were unable to return to work. The moral distress for clinicians associated with ethical dilemmas related to rationing resources during a surge like the current pandemic is very real, and can have lasting effects also.

Employing stress-management tactics to combat the mental health impact of the coronavirus is an essential step to take. During one’s time off work, incorporate tactics like taking necessary breaks from the news, getting adequate sleep, healthy eating, time outdoors when possible, and remaining socially connected while physically distanced cannot be over-emphasized. The Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco has a website devoted to mental health and coronavirus. The site has a special call-out to front-line providers including an 8-week webinar series and links to counseling services.

If you are a front-line clinician, we know that we will never fully understand what you face when you go to work each day. Thank you for all that you are doing to care for all of us. We hope that you will care for yourself too.

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