Strategies for Managing Physician Mental Health Problems Caused by the Pandemic

resource developed by The Joint Commission (TJC) shares important guidance pertinent to mental health concerns among healthcare professionals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The unprecedented nature of the public health crisis, according to TJC, has caused stress-related symptoms and conditions, including, but not limited to:

  • physical isolation from loved ones and colleagues;
  • anger, anxiety and fear from lack of personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • physical strain and injury from prolonged use of PPE;
  • burnout, fatigue and a sense of helplessness;
  • fear of infection and transmission;
  • grief from witnessing death and suffering; and
  • stress from staff layoffs and furloughs.

To manage and respond to the psychological toll of the pandemic, TJC says it is critical that healthcare institutions “have systems in place that support institutional and individual resilience.” The organization emphasizes the “removal of any barriers that inhibit clinicians and healthcare staff from accessing mental health care services, including eliminating policies that reinforce stigma and fear about the professional consequences of seeking mental health treatment.” As outlined in the newsletter, TJC advises leadership and management to implement the following key support strategies:

  • communicate regularly with staff in an honest, sincere, and empathetic manner and ensure information is current and easily accessible to help prevent uncertainty;
  • encourage physicians to share concerns and create a psychologically safe environment to voice questions with leadership. Acknowledge and listen to concerns to help build transparency and mutual trust. Express gratitude for the hard work, flexibility and sacrifices;
  • inform, educate and train staff on psychosocial resources and services;
  • proactively recognize, monitor and respond to emerging psychological issues;
  • adjust staffing where possible and rotate clinicians from higher to lower-stress functions; and
  • closely monitor staff through post-crisis recovery and recognize that, based on emerging issues, plans and infrastructure may need to be reconfigured quickly.

Providers and healthcare administrators are advised to review TJC’s complete list of recommendations on protecting and promoting physician well-being during the crisis.

Additionally, MLMIC  encourages physicians with questions and concerns related to their mental health to call the Physician Support Line. 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 COVID-19 public health crisis. This information, which includes the latest developments in medicine and government, can be accessed on our website.