Mental heath problems faced by healthcare workers during the pandemic

For Your Health

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — During the pandemic, healthcare workers have been working around the clock to make sure patients are getting the care they need.

“We’re there day in and day out no matter what,” said Dellani Spradling, an RN at Northwest Texas Hospital. “We’re there to help those patients that need our help, and that’s our mindset. We’re still there no matter what because somebody needs us.”

Spradling said she started at Northwest in January. “So my whole career has been COVID,” said Spradling.

Spradling said the job does come with stress, but much more so with the onset of COVID-19.

“Physically, it’s very demanding. All-day long, I never sit down, sometimes … A lot of times I don’t get lunches,” said Spradling.

“They’re experiencing a lot of compassion fatigue, right now. They’re experiencing vicarious trauma, where, you know, they’re taking on this trauma for themselves, which puts them at risk for PTSD,” said Arlette Back, a licensed professional counselor in Amarillo. 

Back said the pandemic has exacerbated the stress and anxiety for healthcare workers that were already present.

“They don’t have the time to seek out mental health … They’re working long hours, they’re having trouble sleeping, and, you know, it just goes deeper than burnout. I mean, we’re talking about doctors and nurses out there that are losing their sense of purpose, their sense of identity, and their sources of meaning in their work.”

Many healthcare workers describe the conditions they are seeing as a war zone. Back, who has worked with refugees and is familiar with PTSD and how the symptoms of it manifest in day-to-day life, agrees with the comparison.

“This is exactly what we’re seeing in our health care professionals right now, and it’s like being on the front lines of a war,” said Back.  

“I watched six families be torn apart. It’s not easy to get through emotionally, I come home sometimes and, you know, I’ll go in the bathroom and cry in between talking to patients’ families, or just lean up in the hall and cry,” said Spradling. “We, you know, put on our faces and go be strong for those families because they need us.”

When it comes to the long-term effects on healthcare workers, Back said she is concerned that we could potentially have health care workers develop PTSD.

“We’re talking about a long-term, debilitating illness, mental illness, it is something that they live with every single day,” said Back. “I think of our, our veterans, you know, that have come back from war. It’s almost like they’re coming from this really dangerous situation where they’re fearing for their life every day, or they’re seeing people, people dying around them. And then they’re expected to kind of transition into this normal life. And it’s overwhelming, and they don’t know how to process that.”

“I will wake up in the middle of the night trying to save somebody,” said Spradling. “I see my patients, like their faces, my patients that have died. I’ll see their faces sometimes as I’m trying to go to sleep. It’s really taken a toll on the nurses.”

Bask said healthcare workers must keep up with their mental health, whether it be reaching out to a mental health professional, taking more time for themselves, or just talking to someone.

“The other thing is self-care, self-care, self-care. I cannot say that enough. It could be little things like, you know, soaking in the bathtub, doing some self-compassion exercises, like yoga, or some meditation. There’s lots of things out there. We have to kind of find out what works for us,” said Back.

The community can help support them as well.

“We’re all in this together, and we need to have that mentality. I cannot stress enough that we need to be helping them in this community by wearing masks, trying to social distance, and not gathering,” Back said.

The CDC offers more tips on how to cope and enhance your resilience. You can find those by clicking here. They also have links for you to know where to go if you need help.

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