Even before the pandemic, working conditions for healthcare workers were difficult. Working in healthcare frequently entails:
- Situations that are highly stressful and emotional when caring for sick people
- Experiencing human pain and death
- Relationships with the patient, family members, and employers exert unique pressures.
- Working conditions that pose a constant risk of hazardous exposures to COVID-19, other infectious diseases, dangerous drugs, and other hazards
- Physically demanding work with a risk of injury from patient handling
- Work hours are long and frequently unpredictable. This is commonly related to on-call work’s surprising intensity, as-needed scheduling, and unexpected double shifts.
- Uncertain and unpredictable work lives, as well as financial strain, plague many health workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the fatigue, strain, stress, loss, and grief of healthcare workers. Short staffing and shortages in critical personal protective equipment increased the workload for many healthcare workers. As a result, anxiety levels rose, and the risk of emotional harm increased. Some healthcare workers are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the pandemic. Some people said they still had symptoms from their COVID-19 infection.
Many healthcare workers prioritize the health of others over their own. This dedication to patients may appear admirable on the surface. It can, however, be harmful in the long run if it delays or prevents workers from receiving the assistance they require for their health and well-being.
Another factor that contributes to mental health concerns among healthcare workers is stigma. There is a long-standing stigma associated with healthcare workers seeking treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues.
As a result, healthcare workers across all health systems and disciplines face significant stressors, burdens, and mental health challenges. This is mainly true for those who work on the front lines during public health emergencies, with additional challenges for those who work in impoverished and low-resource settings or in areas where stigmatization is prevalent. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the significance and value of the work that frontline workers and other healthcare professionals do daily under challenging situations and the limitations of healthcare systems worldwide.
Before the memory of the pandemic response fades, appropriate evidence-based measures and interventions must be implemented to shield the mental health and well-being of the healthcare workforce daily, not just during public health crises. The steps and policy recommendations outlined in this post are just a few effective interventions that can reduce the risk of long-term psychological harm to healthcare providers in the aftermath of COVID-19 and beyond.