Under normal circumstances a career in Medicine is stressful. The physical demands, psychological strain and ineffective work processes can lead to burnout, a condition that affects up to 50% of Physicians in the U.S.
Burnout cannot describe what Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics and others are experiencing as COVID-19 overwhelms the health care system.
Frontline healthcare providers are not only treating a mass wave of critically ill patients during the pandemic, they are risking their own health, witnessing higher rates of death and experiencing breakdowns of protocol and support.
According to Scientific America, healthcare workers are in more danger of getting sick from the constant exposure to SARS-CoV-2 than any other group. As of April, the virus has infected more than 9,000 health care workers in the U.S. and killed 27. Hundreds of clinicians have died worldwide.
Colin West, an internist who has studied physician well-being at the Mayo Clinic for more than 15 years said, “Our health care professionals are seeing incredibly sick people in what is really a tidal wave washing over them, and they are leaning into that work because it’s what we do.” But leaning into extreme uncertainty for weeks and months on end could have significant impacts on their mental well-being.
Jessica Gold, a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and other experts believe health care workers as a group could develop high rates of anxiety, depression, substance use issues, acute stress and, eventually, post-traumatic stress as a result of what they are experiencing on the pandemic front lines.
Institutions such as UNC Health in North Carolina have expanded therapy options for providers with telehealth and more flexible scheduling, as well as set up a support hotline.
Expanding mental health support needs to be ongoing and must address systemic problems such as a nationwide mental health care professional shortage and regulatory hurdles that limit telemedicine services. Teletherapy, meditation apps and other virtual health services are a crucial tool for health care workers.