By Allison Philips
Senior Copywriter and Edge Contributor
Over the course of the last year we’ve all mentally borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic but none more so than our public health providers. These essential workers have made sacrifices the rest of us cannot even begin to imagine both physically and mentally as they’ve worked to save lives and manage the virus. In addition to confronting the virus every day, they’ve carried the twin burdens of potentially contracting it themselves and passing it on to family members.
Now as the nation begins to experience a glimmer of hope as vaccinations proceed apace, the mental toll on essential healthcare providers is becoming clearer by the day.
COVID-19’s Adverse Impact
More than 1,000 healthcare workers surveyed by Mental Health America indicated that many of them are experiencing stress, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, burnout, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. All of these feelings are presaging a negative impact on mental health and without adequate support can herald a downward spiral of mental health issues.
In fact, in a recent national survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post, more than 60% of frontline healthcare workers stated that COVID-19 has already negatively impacted their mental health.
Healthcare Workers from American Public University Recount Their Stories
Elina Keiser DNP, MSN, RN, CEN, CNE, CNEcl, Associate Professor Nursing, shares her story.
“I work as an ER nurse about 50 hours a week because I choose to, because being an ER nurse is part of my identity. I hold a part-time position with my emergency department and I’m not required to work as many hours but the hospital is short-staffed. Over the course of the year providers and nurses have also been getting sick and unable to return until cleared for duty. There are constant requests for people to come in early, stay late, work extra days, and our staff members try to come together as a team.”
She continues. “It’s very easy to get lost in what is happening. Many nurses started quitting and taking travel assignments because they got paid three to four times their normal rate. The people that are left behind are being asked to do the job of three people which is creating faster burnout and less job satisfaction which turns to a lack of patient satisfaction. In this kind of spiral it’s easy to get lost in the grind. Since December, I’ve been working a lot and I feel personal responsibility.
It is physically exhausting, emotionally taxing, and causes nurses to burn out. I work to live, I don’t live to work. I make it a point to enjoy my life because tomorrow’s not promised. I see my family, I hang out with my husband, I go out of town. I do activities that mentally and physically let me recoup for my next shift.
Morgan Lane, an APU student, works in Direct Services as a Case Manager for those who are HIV+ or Chronically Ill. She shares her own personal story. “COVID-19 has affected me and my coworkers in many ways. On top of already stressful work, I had to learn how to accomplish non-remote goals, remotely. I have also experienced difficulty staying on task and completing time-sensitive things on time. There is really too much to list, but these are the ones I am still struggling with. The level of isolation that occurs during this time is unprecedented and has led to increased stress/anxiety. I have also experienced worsening body dysmorphia due to my weight gain from my quarantine.”
She continues, “I made an effort to keep an open dialogue with my partner, who is a teacher and also working from home. I am making better efforts to take care of my health by engaging with a nutritionist provided by my work and working out when I can. I have also tried to be more mindful. By doing this I am trying to limit screen time, like eating without my phone or TV. I also have tried to take small tasks and make them more a part of my routine, such as making my bed every morning, drinking coffee outside, watering my plants, or laundry. I feel like those small tasks got lost during quarantine, so I am working to get them back.”
Inspiration from Our University Chaplain
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Ramirez Lindenmeyer, University Chaplain, emphasizes, “What I’ve come to realize is that for most, the pandemic required a change of perception—often we are caught up seeing through a clouded perception, like a glass window covered in a lifetime of accumulated dirt. Cleaning out the distortions caused by fear and insecurity helps create a new world view and offers a clearer perception by which to rewire the belief system and offer a new reality. Meditation and silence helps to purify the mind and often times this practice will help towards a change in perception.”
Emotional Support and Mental Health Resources for Healthcare Workers
The CDC provides many helpful resources that can help healthcare workers manage stress, develop resilience, and mitigate the traumatic effects of coping with COVID-19. Additionally, the AMA delves into a multitude of ways to protect emotional and mental well-being. The National Academy of Medicine offers up an extensive list of resources. Finally, the American College of Cardiology provides information on counseling resources for healthcare workers during COVID-19.