COVID-19 and Your Mental Health: Do You Know Where to Go?
Healthcare workers, especially nurses, are the underpinning of the healthcare system. It is estimated that there are approximately 2.9 million nurses working in the US compared to 800K doctors. While all roles in healthcare are vital and needed, nurses dominate the healthcare field. Yet many times, healthcare is biased against nurses. From mandated overtime to large patient to nurse ratios, nurses have always been frontline heroes.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is no different. Nurses are working longer hours, more days during the week, with less resources and even opting to live away from their families to prevent spreading the disease. While the rest of the world is isolating, watching the pandemic unfold from home office windows, nurses, doctors, nurse aides, etc. are in the trenches bravely facing this disease and fighting daily to prevent further spread and to save the lives of those inflicted.
As a result, mental health wellness is an important issue not to be overshadowed by COVID-19. Overall, rates of anxiety and depression are rising in the US population as a result of the pandemic. But what about the front line workers who are dealing with a graver reality? There are long standing studies highlighting risks of anxiety and depression in nurses and other healthcare workers. Recently a systematic review from the UK identified depression as the leading cause of absenteeism for nurses. As healthcare professionals we need to realize the importance of guarding our mental health. I listed three basic categories of mental health support: Prevention, Treatment and Crisis Intervention.
Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum of mental health, here is a list of resources curated just for you!
Mental health prevention is an investment and includes practices like meditating, physical activity, or allowing time for any hobby or activity that brings you personal peace and joy. Maybe you aren’t feeling anxious or depressed now but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t establish good mental health practices today. Just like cardiac health prevention, you don’t have to wait for a heart attack before making heart health a priority. While mental health is easy to overlook and even minimize, prevention practices establish a life-saving and life-long foundation for you as a nurse. Below are a few resources for guided meditation and my personal favorite at home workouts.
HelpGuide.org lists many free meditations benefitting healthcare workers. Progressive Muscle Relaxation meditation is the perfect balm for nurses working on their feet for long hours with limited to no breaks. After you kick off your danskos and take a shower, these are great practices for alleviating physical tension and stress.
Headspace is another app for meditation. I don’t know about you, but after a stressful and long shift, it is difficult for my mind to shut off. I constantly think about “What if?”, “Did I document it?”, and so on. Pausing the mental noise for just a few moments a day facilitates better concentration at work, restful sleep, and most importantly it protects your mind from being overstretched. Remember, your mind is your most important muscle as a healthcare worker, so it’s vital you allow it time for respite. As a bonus, Headspace is offering a free premium subscription to healthcare workers with proof of licensure through 2020. You have nothing to lose but racing thoughts!
Ten Percent Happier is another meditation app that teaches mindful practices specifically for stress-reduction and happiness. They also have a podcast if that’s more your jam. Ten Percent Happier is offering free access to their services to all healthcare workers. All you have to do is fill out a short form.
Now let’s look at physical exercise. Down Dog has a few different apps for guided workouts. Their apps include Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7 Minute Workout. They have made all of these apps free for healthcare workers through July 1st. Exercise is not only good for your body, but it is also a great outlet for anxiety and stress.
This is my personal favorite yoga workout AND it’s free forever!. It is perfect for every yogi from novice to expert. Adrienne takes you through a 30 day routine that will not only challenge you physically and mentally but also provide you the opportunity to practice mindfulness.
When it comes to mental health there are so many options for treatment. It is estimated that 47.6 million Americans suffered from a mental health illness in 2018, and healthcare workers are intimately familiar with all the treatment options for mental health. Regardless of your medical specialty, if you are in healthcare you have treated a patient suffering from a mental illness. In fact, mental health is woven into all areas of healthcare. So I’m not going to talk to you in detail about treatment options because as a healthcare worker I know you are familiar with your medication and therapy options. What I do want to encourage is if your anxiety or depression is interfering with personal relationships, work performance, or your physical health, apps and meditation are not likely the help you need. You may want to consider seeking treatment from a provider. While you are the heroes on the frontline, even heroes need help time and again. Below are a few options to consider.
Most Family Care Nurse Practitioners or Family Internists are comfortable treating anxiety and depression. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your own provider, now might be a good time to set up a check up appointment. And right now, most offices are offering telehealth options especially when it’s concerning mental health. If sleepless nights, irritability, anxiety not quelled by logic, and intrusive thoughts are your everyday norm, please consider reaching out to your provider. He or she can talk to you about the best treatment options for you.
Maybe you just want to talk to someone. Talkspace is an online therapy platform available to anyone interested in counseling sessions. This platform connects you with a licensed therapist. Research has shown that medication in conjunction with talk therapy has added benefits to patients. In fact the American Psychological Association notes that psychotherapy has more benefits than medication alone. Talkspace is offering free therapy to medical workers, as well as offering free virtual support groups. Check it out today and find your therapist!
EAP also known as Employee Assistance Programs are offered for employees at most healthcare facilities. Typically it includes resources like counseling sessions at either discounted prices or for free. EPA looks different for each facility, so be sure to check with your manager about what is offered. And rest assured, even though these sessions are through your employer all information you share is confidential.
I am a proud member of the Georgia Nurses Association and American Nurses Association. And many of you might be wondering why I would place a nurse association under treatment options for mental health. One thing the Georgia Nurse Association has offered during the pandemic is a weekly, private, online support group for front line nurses. It’s a safe place for like-minded professionals like yourself, experiencing the same day-to-day stress as you. It’s not just a great place to network, but it can also be a safe haven that you look forward to each week. If you haven’t joined your state association, this is a great time to do so.
Despite prevention and treatment, sometimes mental crises arise. The healthcare community recently lost one of our own, not to COVID-19 but another insidious affliction: suicide. Last month, one of the top New York ER doctors caring for COVID-19 patients, who also recently recovered from the illness herself, tragically took her own life. When dealing with mental health and thinking about the importance of prevention and treatment, crisis intervention is the most urgent treatment. There is no shame in feeling like you want to harm yourself. If you find yourself in an urgent mental health crisis here are a few resources for you.
Crisis Text Line has crisis counselors available for healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19. They understand the constant stress and anxiety you face day to day. If you need an empathetic ear all you have to do is text HOME to 741741 to reach a counselor.
Remember, if you ever feel like you might hurt yourself, the National Suicide Precention Lifeline is available 24/7. They can promptly provide you confidential support and resources in your area.
To my nurse family and all the other healthcare workers out there, I want to extend my genuine gratitude for your ongoing service. I am your biggest fan. I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, and I ache for you. Thank you for your endless service to the community and your commitment to care for the vulnerable and sick.
The reason I joined Matchwell is that I lived the struggle and reality of the nurse. I want to be part of a revolution that fundamentally changes the course for nurses. No longer is the system biased against us, but the system is steered by us. COVID-19 has taken away lives, freedom, and security for us all. It has also highlighted the integral role nurses play in the healthcare system.
So take some time to nourish your mental health and if you’d like to join the Matchwell revolution to take back control over your schedule, join us today!