The pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of people across the world. While many individuals struggled with the overarching fear and uncertainty presented by the global spread of disease, healthcare employees faced the added stress of having direct exposure to the virus and witnessing, repeatedly, its devastating impacts on patients and their families.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “Physicians and other frontline healthcare professionals are made particularly vulnerable to negative mental health effects as they strive to balance the duty of caring for patients with concerns about their own well-being and that of their family and friends.” And while we worked, particularly in New York, to support and celebrate these healthcare heroes, the mental health toll is longlasting and must remain a priority.
Statistics on Healthcare Worker Mental Health During COVID-19
Emerging research highlights the pandemic’s impact on healthcare worker mental health. For example, a survey conducted by Mental Health America indicates:
- 93% of healthcare workers are stressed.
- 86% experience anxiety.
- 77% feel frustration.
- 76% describe exhaustion and burnout.
- 75% said they are overwhelmed.
Healthcare professionals who were surveyed also reported they struggled with sleep, physical exhaustion, work-related dread and concern for loved ones. Furthermore, 39% of those surveyed said they did not have adequate emotional support.
Within the workplace, 60.59% of respondents indicated that uncertainty about when things would return to “normal” was a top stressor. Burnout (53.53%) and increased workload (48.61%) were also reported as major sources of stress.
Supporting Physician Mental Health
To best support medical staff during this challenging time, the AMA recommends that hospital and practice leadership should attempt to alleviate providers’ chronic stress and poor mental health as much as possible. This is both for the wellbeing of clinical staff and also for the safety of patients under their care.
Following are strategies and suggestions that may help mitigate COVID-related stressors and provider burnout:
- Adjust procedures and schedules to reduce stress.
- Rotate workers between high- and low-stress level functions.
- Pair experienced staff with less experienced staff to offer support, mentorship and guidance.
- Implement flexible schedules to accommodate those who are directly impacted by infection.
- Prioritize mental wellbeing and physical safety equally.
- Provide resources for mental support.
- Regularly review staff wellbeing to identify risks, issues and unmet needs.
- Encourage open communication about concerns.
- Provide regular updates about how leadership is addressing workplace challenges and allow staff to ask questions.
Resources for physician and clinical staff mental health
MLMIC encourages hospital leadership, practice managers, physicians and others to prioritize clinical staff mental health and recommends the following resources:
- MLMIC Insider post with tips for physicians: “The Crisis of Physician Burnout During COVID-19“
- MLMIC Insider post with recommendations from The Joint Commission: “Five Strategies for Supporting Healthcare Professionals During the Pandemic“
- AMA’s tip sheet for managing mental health during COVID-19: “What physicians can do to the mental and behavioral health care needs within their practices“
In addition, for physicians in distress, the Physician Support Line is a confidential way to talk to a psychiatrist immediately. The free hotline offers supportive therapy to help healthcare employees manage stress that is or is not linked to the pandemic. Services are available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time by calling 1-888-409-0141. No appointment is necessary.
MLMIC has assembled a number of critical resources to support New York physicians navigating the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. This information, which includes the latest developments in medicine and government, can be accessed on our website.