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Mental Health Toll on Healthcare Workers During Pandemics


Healthcare workers are accustomed to taking care of others, but sometimes this can come at the expense of taking care of themselves. However, even being aware that one's mental health is deteriorating can be difficult. It can be easier to spot symptoms of mental illness in others because one can rationalize or find ways to dismiss those same symptoms for one's self. However, maintaining or improving one's current mental health may be protective against future mental illness.


Especially in this current pandemic, healthcare workers have faced significant stressors including shortages in workforce for various reasons - illness, travel positions, or burnout. Having worked in the hospital during the pandemic, I understand the stressors and saw how things unfolded first hand.


Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, there have been other outbreaks due to viruses from the same family. In a recent study, researchers looked at risk and resilience factors in healthcare workers regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS) across these outbreaks.


Of note, researchers found that multiple studies indicate healthcare workers who had a previous history of mental illness were more at risk for developing PTSS. This finding highlights the importance of actively addressing mental health concerns, not only for the present but also the future. Part of that requires knowing what red flags to look out for if your mental health is deteriorating.


Those red flags look different for everyone. What may help is checking in with yourself regularly and noticing if there are any patterns to your thoughts and feelings: Am I constantly on edge? Am I frustrated more often than not? Do I feel like I can find joy in things that I used to like? Have my close friends and family noticed any changes?


For the care that healthcare workers give, just know care is out there for you too.


References:

Carmassi, C., Foghi, C., Dell'Oste, V., Cordone, A., Bertelloni, C. A., Bui, E., & Dell'Osso, L. (2020). PTSD symptoms in healthcare workers facing the three coronavirus outbreaks: What can we expect after the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatry research, 292, 113312. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113312

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