15 Aug How to Support the Mental Health of Frontline Workers
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, healthcare workers and carers have been thrust into a rapid health crisis not seen since the 1918 flu pandemic.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Frontline Healthcare Workers
A growing body of research shows that frontline workers are facing widespread adverse effects from the long hours, physical stress and emotional trauma they face daily.
Research in Italy found that almost half (49.38%) of the healthcare workers surveyed endorsed symptoms of post-traumatic stress, reporting symptoms of depression (24.73%), anxiety (19.8%), insomnia (8.27%) and high perceived stress (21.9%).
With recent evidence suggesting that long-term immunity is not conferred after recovering from the virus, and wide vaccine distribution at least a year away, healthcare workers are at risk of complete burnout if we do not take steps to care for their mental health.
How to Support the Mental Health of Frontline Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers play a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 and saving lives. But this can’t happen if it severely compromises their mental health.
By looking at previous pandemics and their effect on healthcare workers’ mental health, we can better determine how to mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are 3 ways to best support the mental health of our frontline staff, based on previous pandemics.
1. Emphasise control measures and access to PPE
Perhaps the most reliable way to mitigate adverse mental health effects among frontline workers is to reduce external stressors.
A 2016 study investigating perceived stressors during the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak found that the largest stressors were seeing colleagues intubated and fearing transmitting MERS to family and friends.
This is why mitigating risk of infection through strict control measures and improving access to personal protective equipment (PPE) improves mental health outcomes.
2. Reducing work intensity
The long and taxing work hours associated with this pandemic has been a major contributor to mental stress and burnout.
Wherever possible, hospital administrators and local governments should try to reduce work intensity for COVID-19 frontline workers and ensure they meet their basic needs.
This includes interventions like encouraging workers to take breaks in rest areas during shifts, ensuring proper lunch breaks and proper training and education surrounding COVID-19.
3. Develop dedicated mental health teams and protocols.
Because of the unrepresented scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not always possible to improve PPE access or reduce shift hours. So developing mental healthcare teams consisting of trained psychiatrists can play a crucial role in supporting frontline workers.
Mental health teams can also provide early mental health interventions and support for all frontline workers, which can reduce stress and improve mental health. These teams can also help identify frontline workers who need additional support and intervention.
Small amounts of stress are easy for people to cope with. However, whenever a situation or stimulus that causes stress is left for too long, it can overwhelm the person and cause them to feel physical and emotional distress.
UppTherapy therapists will evaluate your stress level and advise what therapies would best suit you. stress management can be defined as the therapies implemented to help a person control their level of stress in the hope of feeling better.
For more information on mental health support for workers on the COVID-19 front lines, please start with our Questionnaire to find out how we can help you.