Guide Aims at Supporting Mental Health of COVID-19 Health Care Workers
In a new paper published in the European Heart Journal, experts look at the psychological well-being of COVID-19 health care workers, and offer recommendations for individuals, teams and organizational leaders working on the front lines of the pandemic.
The academic review emphasizes that COVID-19 health care workers in health care will be psychologically impacted by their work during the pandemic and will require psychological support from multiple levels in their organizations.
“Leadership during a crisis is always a challenge, however, leading during the COVID-19 situation is even more difficult given that leaders themselves are ‘living’ in the crisis and equally impacted by it as much as those who they are leading,” said Dr. Mike Christian, Research & Clinical Effectiveness Lead and emergency physician with Barts Health NHS Trust.
“Although there are many negative aspects of the current situation, teams can grow stronger, individuals can develop, relationships can grow deeper as a result of this crisis. The impact of this pandemic and how leaders respond during it will shape the future relationship of teams and culture of organizations for years to come.”
The paper also emphasizes the increased pressure staff are under, while having to deal with fears of catching the illness themselves or passing it on to their families, working with new and frequently changing protocols, and caring for very sick and quickly deteriorating patients, all of which can lead to severe stress reactions, burnout, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and “moral injury.”
“The hero and angel tropes which we see bandied about are also highly problematic because they make it look as if people signed up to die, like a hero does, but they didn’t,” said Dr. Esther Murray, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology at Queen Mary University of London.
“It also makes it harder for NHS staff to talk about how they really feel because opinions get polarized — are you a hero or a coward? A lot of staff feel like cowards but they are not at all, they’re just quite justifiably frightened and angry.”
The U.K. authors argue that during the COVID-19 pandemic there are many opportunities to support staff. The paper is structured as a guide and has easy to read sections and tables so that individuals can focus on the section most relevant to them. The paper will be useful for any person involved in the frontline health care response.
Special circumstances such as staff being quarantined and returning to work are covered, including guidance on how organizations can provide tangible support and address any pre-existing stressors. Advice on crisis leadership and how to support distressed colleagues is detailed, including self-care.
In the paper, emerging concepts such as “moral injury” (originally from work with military veterans) are applied to frontline staff. Moral injury describes the psychological impact of bearing witness to unacceptable things or making decisions that contravene the morals of the individual making them, resulting in severe guilt and shame. For example, there may be new protocols about which patients will not receive life support if there are resource scarcities.
“Psychological support for frontline staff is a critical part of the public health response, I hope our paper can be useful for all those who need guidance in providing that support,” said Dr. Matt Walton, a London-based emergency services doctor.
Source: Queen Mary University of London
Pedersen, T. (2020). Guide Aims at Supporting Mental Health of COVID-19 Health Care Workers. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/05/03/guide-aims-at-supporting-mental-health-of-covid-19-health-care-workers/156231.html