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COVID-19 and the mental health of health care workers

My previous post on March 24, Coping with COVID-19, mentioned four strategies I use to “stay sane in self-isolation.”

Apart from my obvious personal interest—as someone living with bipolar disorder—in staying sane during this stressful time, I’ve been doing intensive COVID-related research as part of my work as a public health consultant. So I’d like to share some of this with you.

One topic that’s emerging from the hot-off-the-press published literature about COVID-19 concerns the impacts of the pandemic on mental health: both the mental health of the health professionals and support staff working with COVID-19 patients, and that of community members.

In this post—in honour of National Nurses’ Week in Canada—I’ll focus on the mental health and wellbeing of health workers.

▶︎▶︎12 May 2020 marks exactly two hundred years since the birth of Florence Nightingale, the exceptional British nurse and arguably the founder of modern nursing, and is celebrated around the world as International Nurses’ Day.

The mental health of health workers during the pandemic

Health workers are at extreme risk of developing anxiety, depression, and even longstanding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after working under epidemic conditions. We know this from previous research after the SARS outbreak of 2002/3, and MERS in 2012.

To date, I have only been able to find two articles specifically about the mental health of health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (one published in The Lancet, and one in The Lancet Psychiatry) and one that relies on findings from the SARS outbreak (also from The Lancet Psychiatry).

Chen et al conclude their article: “Maintaining staff mental health is essential to better control infectious diseases…”

Well, of course it is! But how seldom this fact is acknowledged, especially in the midst of a crisis where people are dying in unprecedented numbers.

The basic message we have to remember is this:

Health workers are human, just like everyone else! And if anyone needs to take extra-special care of themselves and their mental health during this time, it’s the health workers we all depend upon.

Let’s send out some positive thoughts and wishes for everyone who is part of the global health force, and for their families who live with the stress of loved ones who expose themselves to the virus every day at work. A thousand thanks to you all!

Stay safe, and take extra-good care!


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