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Health Care Workers Need Help Too, Especially During Coronavirus Pandemic

Misha Friedman
Getty Images
A staff member pushes a wheelchair at St. Barnabas Hospital on March 23 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Many health care workers risk their physical and mental health to do their jobs. The coronavirus pandemic has intensified these challenges.

Just last month, emergency department medical director Dr. Lorna M. Breen committed suicide. Her family cites her work helping COVID-19 patients as the reason.

Health care workers are on the frontlines treating COVID-19 patients, trying to help people survive and witnessing these traumatic events. Research has found that just observing these events can be psychologically similar to experiencing them yourself, according to Dr. Chad Wetterneck. He's a clinical psychologist and clinical director of trauma recovery services at Rogers Behavioral Health. 

Wetterneck says the medical community needs to pay greater attention to their employees and look out for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He says that proper support and coping tools are especially important in light of the pandemic.

"They ask someone for help, they might be met with, 'Oh, well you’re the doctor,' or 'You’re a therapist, don’t you know all this stuff?' And of course that’s not really reinforcing for them and they also might develop this own sense of, ‘Yeah, aren’t I supposed to know this?' " says Wetterneck. 

He notes that most people who experience trauma won't develop PTSD, but it can still severly affect their mental health. 

"Maybe it's they don't do things that they relied upon before for coping skills. Some people may take a walk during lunch and they are no longer doing that, they're no longer communicating with their peers as much," explains Wetterneck. 

He says that health care organizations need to be prepared to help their employees as they face an increased level of trauma during the coronvirus pandemic. 

His message to health care workers: be easy on yourself — having these negative reactions to trauma is normal. 

"This is a higher stress time, there's nothing wrong with you that you are feeling this way," says Wetterneck. "Think about the people you trust the most in your life, and this could be a very relative term, but talk to them. Tell them some of your fears and let them offer you some comfort." 

If you are struggling, Rogers Behavioral Health offers online mental health treatment. If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide call the National Suicide Prevention line at 1-800-273-8255.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.