Even though Western Wisconsin has not had as many COVID-19 cases as other areas of the country, healthcare providers are still at risk for contracting the virus and for having mental health issues associated with treating those patients.
Some doctors in hard-hit New York have developed PTSD, with one ER doctor committing suicide.
Local healthcare workers say serving on the frontline of a pandemic can take a toll, no matter the case number.
“Mental health impacts how we function day-to-day,” said Dr. Margaret Grenisen, a Mayo Clinic family physician. “I think there have been incredible changes that have occurred with this pandemic.”
From cancellations, working from home, hours changing, fear of illness– the pandemic carries a level of uncertainty.
Doctors say it’s important to recognize the vulnerability of the situation.
Local health experts say the phrase ‘Doctors make the worst patients’ can ring true when it comes to checking in on their mental health as well.
“I think doctors are reluctant to ask for help. I think we have this sort of bravado that we have to shoulder the burden, go it alone,” Dr. Grenisen said.
Mayo Clinic offers online self-help resources, Employee Assistance Programs, and is also introducing a new ‘Healing the Emotional Life by Peers’ program.
“It’s a support program. We’re training nursing staff and physicians to be emotional peer counselors,” said Dr. Grenisen.
Gundersen has resources available as well.
“One service that is an option to employees is our Employee Assistance Program,” said Jessica Boland, a Gundersen wellness education specialist. “Employees can speak with staff over the phone or in-person. We also have been promoting our spiritual care department as a resource, wellness coaching and then also promoting 211 as a resource in terms of needing to speak with someone or getting resources during this time.”
Some doctors are self-isolating away from family members during the pandemic, another element that can lead to behavioral health effects.
Medical experts encourage healthcare workers to start a conversation if they are suffering.
“Use those resources, call a friend if you are having some difficulty. There’s people here that want to help,” Dr. Grenisen said.
They say sometimes even caregivers need to be cared for as well.