Did you know that 450 million people currently suffer from a mental illness?1 You probably do, since you’re treating a lot of patients presenting with symptoms of anxiety and depression. But did you know that among frontline healthcare workers (aka you), the prevalence of experiencing a mental health-related symptom ranges from 62%-71% with the most common symptoms including perceived health status, health distress (including burnout), perceived stress and post-traumatic disorders, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and perceived stigma2
When fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, HCPs put aside their own lives to help fight for the lives of millions of Americans inflicted with the virus. Now, however, the repercussions from working on the frontlines are manifesting in the form of mental health symptoms, and we as a country are currently facing one of the biggest mental health crises ever seen.
Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and a mental health advocate, easily sums up mental health’s place in the world today: “A crisis highlights all of our fault lines. We can pretend that we have nothing to learn, or we can take this opportunity to own the truth and make a better future for ourselves and others.” For many people, especially frontline workers, mental health took a back seat to physical health, work, and relationships; this, in turn, created the largest group of people who suffer from mental health-related conditions who do nothing about it.
Shining a light on this issue, and calling upon Americans to own the truth of their condition, is Mental Health America, the organization that has declared May as National Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949.
Mental Health in May
Through outreach, social media, local events, and screenings, Mental Health Awareness Month has taken center stage every May (except for last year, when it may have gotten lost in the shuffle amidst the COVID drama). Because of the severity of mental health in 2021, the organization has created a downloadable toolkit that provides resources and techniques to better your mental health. Materials that can be utilized from within the toolkit–that especially benefit HCPs with their personal mental health struggles–include:3
- Adapting after trauma and stress
- Dealing with anger and frustration
- Getting out of thinking traps
- Processing big changes
- Taking time for yourself
- Radical acceptance
Coping With Mental Health at Home
Some people may be suffering from occasional mental health symptoms. Some days, anxiety is at bay, while others are a full force of emotion. There are a few tips and tricks that can be done at home, every day, to recenter your emotions and keep the whirlwind of symptoms at bay.4
- Make time for yourself every single day, even just 30 minutes. Even something as small as a crossword puzzle or Zumba class can help avoid any feelings of self-criticism.
- Take care of your body. Eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, do not smoke, and aim for 6+ hours of sleep per night.
- Surround yourself with good people. Family and friends who lift you up as opposed to dragging you down can do wonders for your overall outlook. Bonus points if they make you laugh.
- Volunteer to give back. Sometimes, helping others is the easiest way to help yourself.
- Practice mindfulness by listening to guided meditations or reading books by thought leaders. Blocking out the noise for just 5 minutes can improve symptoms of mental health.
- Deal with stress in a finite time frame. When stressful situations arise, think about the steps necessary to overcome the stress. When stress becomes manageable, our anxiety associated with stress can dissipate.
- Set realistic goals for the day. If you wake up feeling overwhelmed with all there’s to do, take 5 minutes to map out a plan of action. Nothing beats the satisfaction of crossing an item off your to-do list.
- Incorporate something new into your day-to-day routine. Feeling like every day is Groundhog Day? Take a new way home on your commute, or order from a restaurant you’ve never tried before. Spontaneous decisions can add some excitement to a regular weekday.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs. People may think that drugs and alcohol can help these problems go away; in fact, they actually make them worse.
If you’ve tried all these methods and are still feeling symptoms, it’s probably time to seek professional help. For busy HCPs, finding a therapist that works with hectic schedules can be a challenge, but thanks to technology, the resources you need are available 24/7.
How Else Can HCPS Get Mental Health Help?
Many organizations and associations have stepped up in support of clinician mental health and well-being. The National Academy of Medicine created an Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience in response to the increasing rates of burnout and stress among healthcare providers. The goals of the collaboration can be broken into 3 parts:5
- Raise the visibility of clinician anxiety, burnout, depression, stress, and suicide;
- Improve baseline understanding of challenges to clinician well-being;
- Advance evidence-based, multidisciplinary solutions to improve patient care by caring for the caregiver.
Additionally, the Infectious Disease Society published a comprehensive list of resources for frontline workers and clinicians that includes quick links to external mental health tools. These include resources and hotlines for help as well as multimedia such as podcasts and guided meditations.
Hospitals and workplaces like NYU Langone in New York offer mental health resources for all employees. The administration at this facility developed a cross-departmental, interdisciplinary Frontline Staff Support Task Force to address pandemic-related issues, including difficulties with sleep, anxiety, stress, and juggling work and family responsibilities. This task force included representatives of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from all of NYU Langone’s locations, as well as the affiliated VA NY Harbor Healthcare System and NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue.6 The Force created an internal website for employees and an outward-facing site for family members, offering pathways for mental health services as well as webinars, Facebook Live events, articles, tip sheets, and infographics on coping strategies.
Additionally, Johns Hopkins Medicine developed mySupport, an online employee assistance program available to all Johns Hopkins University employees. The Office of Well-Being at the University was created to remove barriers in order to create a productive, joyful, and healthful workplace. The Office runs programs like MESH (Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Help), Rise (Resilience in Stressful Events) and Healthy at Hopkins.7
Ask your employer about sponsored mental health benefits for employees, and check out the resources above for any help you may need.
- Stasha S. 24+ Mental Health Statistics You Should Know (2021). PolicyAdvice. Updated February 13, 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- Gupta S, Sahoo S. Pandemic and mental health of the front-line healthcare workers: a review and implications in the Indian context amidst COVID-19. Gen Psychiatr. 2020;33(5):e100284.
- Mental Health Month. Mental Health America website. Published 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- Ten Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health. University of Michigan website. Published 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- National Academy of Medicine Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience. National Academy of Medicine. Published 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- NYU Langone Health. Providing Mental Health Support to Frontline Healthcare Workers During the Pandemic. NYU website. Published 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- Smith L. Supporting Mental Health for Faculty and Staff During COVID-19. Hopkins Medicine website. Published November 23, 2021. Accessed May 6, 2021.