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Healthcare professionals' mental health suffering even more than that of general public due to COVID-19

The general public experienced a similar arc, though it hasn't sunk as low as that of their healthcare counterparts since the pandemic took root.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

In cooperation with the American Association of Suicidology, Qntfy, an artificial intelligence analytics firm, recently launched a study looking at the effects of the pandemic on the mental well-being of the public compared to that of healthcare providers. The results show that, while the well-being of the general population has decreased, the well-being of healthcare providers has decreased even more – which the authors say is cause for significant concern.

Data on more than 25,000 healthcare professionals and more than 10,000 members of the general population were analyzed using machine learning models for anxiety, depression and suicide risk to develop the well-being scores.

Machine learning models were used to anonymously score social media messages posted by individuals in each category.

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WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

Quantified well-being composite scores, using pre-outbreak statistics as a baseline, show that healthcare professionals' well-being dipped to a low of -4 standard deviation changes on April 6, and ticked up slightly in the following days. The general public experienced a similar arc, though it hasn't sunk as low as that of their healthcare counterparts since the pandemic took root in the U.S.

Dr. Loice Swisher, an emergency room physician in Philadelphia and a member of the AAS, said healthcare workers need "mental health PPE," analogous to the physical personal protective equipment used to slow or prevent the infection's spread.

She recommends the first part of mental health PPE for all healthcare workers should involve developing a Personal Crisis Management Plan. This is a version of a safety plan, which has been well established in suicide-prevention crisis-intervention services, but adapted with the needs of healthcare professionals in mind. There are also smartphone apps that include these features, like the Virtual Hope Box.

She also suggests healthcare workers who might find themselves at risk for a crisis develop self-care strategies that focus on three main areas. The first is connectedness: Workers should identify three people they can call, and focus on maintaining personal relationships.

Healthcare personnel should also develop a "sunshine file" of great cases, thank-you notes, pictures, or anything else that is important, and intentionally develop skills of mindfulness and self-compassion.

The authors also point to these resources from the Council of Residency Directors in Emergency Medicine. Crisis Text Line has also established a program for frontline workers. More resources, including a tool to immediately find the closest crisis services can be found at covidmentalhealthsupport.org.

THE LARGER TREND

Dr. James Adams of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and Dr. Ron Walls of Harvard Medical School, wrote in a recent paper that the combination of stress and possible exposure puts healthcare professionals, from physicians to nurses and specialists, at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to others.

It's the classic rock-and-a-hard-place scenario. Healthcare workers and caregivers are desperately needed during the global response to the outbreak, but represent one of the most vulnerable populations in terms of contracting the highly virulent disease.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com