Health Care Workers Face Increasing Mental Health Challenges

COVID-19 has affected the lives of everyone, but it has had more of a dramatic impact on some groups more than others. Among the hardest-hit groups are health care workers.

Even in ordinary times, health care workers have to deal with significant stressors, but the pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on most of them.

For example, studies from China have found that initial health care responders have experienced major increases in depression, anxiety, insomnia and the fear of workplace violence.

A June 2020 study of more than 5,000 respondents found that one in five essential workers had considered suicide in the last month.

Of those workers, 13% said they were using drugs (illicit and prescription) and alcohol to manage stress caused by the pandemic. 

In addition to these stressors, a powerful stigma remains around mental health issues.

About one in five American adults experience some kind of mental illness, yet these conditions are misunderstood by many, including those in the health care field.

In fact, health care workers may be subject to an even greater stigma if they admit to mental health struggles, or seek help for them. This may be one reason for the high incidence of burnout and suicide among physicians. 

One study found that more than half of physicians said their workload affected their mental health.

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Further, three out of four doctors had witnessed symptoms of burnout among other doctors. The rate of suicide for doctors is more than twice that of the general population and, in fact, higher than any other profession. 

With the unrelenting stress of the pandemic likely to continue for the ongoing future, the mental pressure and demands on health care workers may only accelerate. That makes addressing and treating mental health issues paramount for these workers.

Though because of the stigma around these issues, they may be reluctant to seek help. 

The first line of defense is to use strategies to manage and lessen the stress health care workers face. Measures to take could include prioritizing sleep, eating a nutritious diet and exercising consistently.

Physical activity is a stress-reducer and mood-enhancer. Avoid turning to alcohol or drugs for stress management. Try reframing by focusing on what you are grateful for or mindfulness techniques to help reset your mood and outlook. 

It’s important to recognize that it’s not only acceptable — but healthy — to ask for help if you’re struggling with mental health issues.

The accompanying resource provides additional statistics about mental health in health care workers and potentially effective management techniques.

Graphic created by Mozzaz.