Mental Health Workers: The Other First Responders in this Pandemic
Why mental health workers need safeguarding and protection more than ever
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the importance of preventing overload to our health care system. What we are only starting to hear about is its (anticipated) overwhelming impact on mental health services… and its providers.
Mental health workers are just as prone to burnout as any other care providers. Given the predicted impact of this pandemic on the well-being of virtually everyone, we need these service providers to be stronger than ever. Mental health workers need protection now, to ensure that they are available and prepared for the coming mental health crisis.
Nobody is immune to the pandemic’s negative mental health effects.
Social distancing measures keep loved ones apart, businesses and schools closed, people without steady work or income, and other services overloaded. The stress to essential workers and their families is obvious. We are living in a time of great uncertainty, with no end in sight.
Psychiatrists Dr. Andrew L. Smith of The Ottawa Hospital and Dr. Neil de Laplante of the University of Ottawa support that while social distancing measures are necessary, they could “lead many of us to feelings of isolation and powerlessness”, which are both linked to anxiety, depression, and possibly suicide.
The pandemic could be detrimental for those already facing complex mental health challenges: chronic anxiety, trauma, delusional paranoia, and addictions to name a few. There are people without the cognitive ability to understand the situation. Some are without a working memory. And others could be further subjected to daily abuse.
Health care workers and first responders are also high-risk groups for mental health challenges during this pandemic. They face prolonged exposure to high-stress work environments, in addition to the personal struggles we all face waiting out COVID-19. Post-trauma effects are a real threat to this group. Positively, there are mental health resources specific to first responders, but I wonder how accessible…