Over the past two years, our dedicated Steward team members have worked around the clock in the fight against COVID-19. With this incredible commitment and sacrifice, however, comes a mental and physical toll. In fact, in the first year of the pandemic, 69% of physicians reported experiencing depression, while 93% of health care workers reported being stressed out or stretched too thin.
To commemorate World Mental Health Day and address the impact that the pandemic has had on health care workers’ mental well-being, we spoke with Dr. Leonardo Batista, MD, FAPA, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Morton Hospital in Taunton, MA.
How has the pandemic impacted physicians’ mental health?
The pandemic is becoming a chronic problem that we are all learning to adjust to. But now, we are also facing a second, equally serious, pandemic of mental health challenges. Especially among health care workers, the pandemic has left this population, which needs to be prompt and ready to respond, injured. Many health care workers are dealing with moral, ethical, and psychological damage from the pandemic, as well as vicarious traumatization, or secondary trauma from peers and patients. Many surveys have shown a sharp increase in burnout throughout the healthcare field as well.
What is burnout and how does it manifest physically?
Burnout is when the negative impacts of your work have made it purposeless for you. Symptoms include feeling physically tired, cognitively exhausted, and even resentful towards your workplace. Throughout the pandemic, burnout among health care workers has risen dramatically. Before the pandemic, the burnout rate among health care workers was 30%. Three years into the pandemic, it is now 60%.
What steps can first responders take to prioritize their mental health as the pandemic continues?
Many people take advantage of self-care as a natural instinct. But, for many health care workers, self-care does not come naturally. Health care workers are trained to put patients first, and this perception that health care workers need to be 100% selfless often leaves us with a poor ability to incorporate self-care practices. To curtail the devastating consequences of this new mental health pandemic, self-care needs to become a priority for health care workers.
There are several tools that health care workers can employ to manage their mental health. One great resource is the World Health Organization’s online course Self Help Plus, which provides users with five lessons on managing stress. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also created an app called “PTSD Coach,” which frontline workers can use to monitor their daily emotional responses to stress and to learn more about the powers of mindfulness, meditation, and self-help.
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