Healthcare workers at risk for emotional exhaustion amid COVID-19

Published: May. 7, 2020 at 10:32 PM CDT
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Hospitals are stepping up mental health support for employees on the frontline as healthcare workers are at risk for emotional exhaustion amid COVID-19.

Scrubs have been a part of April Mau's wardrobe for almost two decades. She's a registered nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital.

"So when I start my day, it takes a lot more prep coming and going because we have to put on our hospital issued scrubs when we first come in," she said.

Mau is also a mom of two. She said after she hangs up her scrubs for the day, the Coronavirus is still on her mind.

"When I get home, no hugs or kisses for mom until I take a shower and wash my hair," she said.

During the day , Mau is taking care of COVID patients and sometimes her team.

"Being charge nurse on the patient floor of COVID diagnosis, I feel like I have to be strong for my staff members, but I don't have easy days either," she said.

She explained it's difficult trying to connect with patients with a mask on and watching their health decline is even worse.

"Every day is not happy for a nurse and that's just how it is," she said.

Lisa Baker, St. Mary's Hospital psychologist, said on the other side of the heroism is humanism.

"The experience of anxiety and fear and not knowing how to process in ways we haven't had to in the past was and has been a struggle,” Baker said.

Baker said healthcare providers are more vulnerable to mental health conditions due to the nature of the work.

"This work takes presence emotionally and physically," she said. "If we are getting burned out, depressed or highly anxious we can't do the jobs that we're trying to do."

She explained the COVID-19 pandemic is emotionally exhausting for healthcare workers.

In an effort to help their employees, St. Mary's Hospital started virtual support groups to help employees navigate the unknown.

"I’ve been amazed at the way people can share and talk about their experiences and create an environment of support for each other,” Baker said.

We all have bad days and sad days and what's nice about the team I work with, when one has a bad day, the other picks up," Mau said.

But Mau said, there are good days.

"We see those success stories and it reminds us why we're here day in and day out," Mau said. "At the end of the day it is scary, it's really scary, but we do the best that we can.”

If you or someone you know is having difficulty coping during the pandemic, Baker recommends reaching out to people you trust to talk about these feelings or concerns.

“Finding people in their lives from work or outside who they can share their feelings and emotions with and not bottle it up,” she said.

She explained leaders and managers should check on their healthcare workers on a daily basis to make sure everyone is in good health.

“We aren’t invincible,” Baker said. “We really need to take time for ourselves.”