Our health care workers are at risk. Not only the physical risks around COVID-19, but also the mental health risks. I invited professionals to weigh in on what we can do for our health care workers to help optimize their mental health and overall well-being.
Louis Laves Webb, LCSW, LPC-S offers advice on how to care for health care workers. “One suggestion is to offer critical incident stress debriefing sessions,” said Webb. Witnessing, helping, and intervening with perpetual traumatic situations such as what’s occurring for health care workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 causes secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and overall mental decompensation.
Webb says, “Critical incident stress debriefing done within 72 hours after their respective shifts, is a well researched, easily implemented, and practical approach that can serve as a proactive measure for providing support to our frontline workers. Debriefing is a specific technique designed to help others in dealing with the physical or psychological symptoms that are generally associated with trauma exposure. Debriefing allows those involved with the incident to process the event and reflect on its impact. Ideally, debriefing can be conducted on or near the site of the event." Another thing Laves-Webb stresses is a system of support. “No one functions well as an island, especially now,” said Laves-Webb.
Saundra Dalton-Smith MD, says we have to be proactive with our help. If we do not, she believes “we will find ourselves being cared for by people who have lost their ability to be compassionate due to total mind-body-spirit exhaustion.” Prairie Conlon, LMHP, Clinical Director of Therapetic, notes that "compassion fatigue is a very real occurrence, and it can happen quickly when you tire out both the mind and body."
Kailyn Bobb, PsyD, director of Psychotherapy at Clarity Clinic in Chicago, suggests local communities help with morale boosters. Some examples she offered are “providing games, comfort food, words or cards of hope, support, and laughter; and phone or video calls of support from family, friends, and strangers. These can rewarm the soul after it has taken a beating.” Communities can also support health care professionals in practical ways, such as by making homemade mask workers can use to help protect themselves, or having food deliveries and bottled water shipped to the medical facilities.
Bobb said, “We have seen what happens when we do not support our veterans when they come home from the war, such as increase in substance use, interpersonal issues, homelessness, and high rates of suicide. The military has made tremendous forward movement to mitigate the symptoms associated with the effects of war and has worked towards building resiliency among our service members. When you are facing hours of battle, no matter if it is on the front lines of war or on the medical floor treating severely ill patients, and you can’t get a shower in or even have time to eat, those brief moments or activities to boost morale can go a long way.”
Yet perhaps the best thing we can do is follow government guidelines. Conlon said, “the most important thing we can do to help them is to help flatten the curve by following stay at home orders. The less demand on the hospitals, the less demand on the nurses. Keep that in mind when you are bored in your home, that there are people who are working hard to keep us safe.”
Bobb encourages everyone to help out in some way: “This support needs to be done now and needs to continue long after the war is won. This is the time where we all need to come together and ask what we can all collectively contribute to help our fellow humans.”