This May marked the 72nd Mental Health Awareness Month. Founded in 1949 by the organization presently known as Mental Health America, its purpose is to educate the public about mental illness and raise awareness of the afflictions associated with it. This Mental Health Awareness Month felt particularly poignant in the wake of COVID-19. As the world shut down and individuals were forced to self-isolate and cope with the stress and fears associated with a global pandemic, countless people began to experience a change in their mental health, and the pandemic’s toll on mental health was likely most severe for healthcare workers and first responders.
Even before the pandemic, the healthcare sector had long been plagued by mental illness at disproportionate rates. US physicians have some of the highest suicide rates of any profession, equating to roughly 1 suicide per day (Bailey, 2020). In a 2019 study conducted prior to the spread of COVID-19 in the US, 42% of physicians reported they felt “burn-out” (Becker), and a separate study conducted the same year revealed 20% of medical residents met the criteria for depression (Kalmoe et al., 2019).
The pandemic has only exacerbated the mental health crisis among healthcare workers as their workloads multiplied, their hours increased, they risked exposure to COVID-19, and they witnessed higher patient casualty rates. These stressors negatively impacted the physical and mental wellness of healthcare providers and have led to an increase in anxiety (22.1%), depression (21.7%), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (21.5%) (Li et al., 2021).
When care providers suffer from a mental illness, it not only affects them, but it can also negatively impact on how they treat patients, the quality of their work, and of course, their private lives. It is important to learn the symptoms of stress to not only protect oneself but to stay in-tuned with others to help identify who may be in crisis and needs help. The Centers for Disease Control lists the following symptoms of stress to look out for:
· Feeling irritation, anger, or denial · Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious · Feeling helpless or powerless · Lacking motivation · Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out · Feeling sad or depressed · Having trouble sleeping · Having trouble concentrating
These symptoms can be attributed to a variety of stress disorders, including, but not limited to, PTSD, compassion fatigue, and burnout. To help cope with the added stress brought on by the pandemic, the CDC recommends keeping an open line of communication with others, accepting what is outside of the individual’s control, and recognizing their role as important and doing the best they can with the resources available to them. For a guide on how to take care of your mental wellness through the pandemic and for additional resources, please see our previous blog, Managing Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Outbreak.
If you struggle in the wake of COVID-19, it is important to know, you are not alone. There are a variety of resources, including professional counseling and support groups, available to you, and now is the perfect time to take control of your mental wellness journey. Below is a list of peer support resources for the healthcare professionals wishing to connect with others with common understanding:
If you grapple with your mental health and are seeking professional resources, you can visit the Mental Health America website, Mental Health and COVID-19 Information and Resources to receive a personal screening and obtain resources and support unique to your needs.
Bailey, Susan. (September 16, 2020). Now’s the time to have a difficult talk about physician suicide. Article [Website]. Retrieved from: Now’s the time to have a difficult talk about physician suicide | American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Updated December 16, 2020). Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Resources [Website]. Retrieved from: Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic | CDC
Gooch, Kelly. (March 11, 2021). More than 20% of healthcare workers experience mental health challenges during pandemic, global study shows. Article [Website]. Retrieved from: More than 20% of healthcare workers experienced mental health challenges during the pandemic, global study shows (beckershospitalreview.com)
Kalmoe, M. C., Chapman, M. B., Gold, J. A., Giedinghagen, A. M. (May 2019). Physician Suicide: A Call to Action. Research Article [Website]. Retrieved from: Physician Suicide: A Call to Action (nih.gov)
Li, Y., Scherer, N., Felix, L., Kuper, H. (March 10, 2021). Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Research Article [Website]. Retrieved from: Prevalence of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis (plos.org)