Researchers call for mental health support for healthcare workers

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Healthcare workers have been on the front lines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, providing care to the sick at great personal risk. Most of the proposed policies to protect their health and safety have focused on access to high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) and other occupational safety needs. However, researchers argue in a new commentary that behavior health is being overlooked.  

In the commentary, researchers led by Theresa Cullen, MD, MD, address concerns about the impact of sustained, acute psychological and moral distress on those working the front lines. The authors proposed a coordinated national strategy to identify, prevent, mitigate, and manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in healthcare workers.

The authors present a three-part strategy:

  1. Prevention
  2. Treatment
  3. Managing long-term effects

The authors urge the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to gather stakeholders to develop a critical incident stress mitigation standard for the healthcare industry and implement it. They also urge new PTSD screening measures. Individuals identified as at an elevated risk of developing PTSD should be offered treatment.

The goal of the treatment phase is to build behavioral health treatment capacity through public-private partnerships, creating a coordinated clinical team of primary care and PTSD specialists throughout the country. In part three, the authors state that the coordinated clinical team should use mechanisms developed in part two to guide health providers, as well as work to develop new evidence-based policies to manage PTSD.

"The lasting impacts of this pandemic are unknown," said Cullen in a statement. "As we continue to address this crisis, those providing front line care must not be left behind. We need to prioritize both their physical and mental health."

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.