Caring for Our Health Care Workers

Share this post:


Supporting the Emotional Well-Being of Health Care Workers during a Pandemic

You can see them all over social media – thank you messages for the medical professionals who have been caring for patients affected by COVID-19. From frontline doctors and nurses to countless allied health workers to support staff such as environmental and food service workers – all have felt the negative impact of this crisis. 

But while health care workers have been fighting a global pandemic, many are also fighting a more personal battle: their own mental health issues.

Stress, lack of sleep, demanding schedules, and struggles with work/life balance represented common challenges for health care workers prior to COVID-19. The pandemic not only intensified these challenges, it added fear of exposure and becoming sick, anger and frustration over insufficient resources to fight the pandemic, isolation from family, trauma and grief over the continued loss of life, and even, sometimes, “harassment from the community for enforcing strict protective measures to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Now, as states are beginning to open back up, organizations from the American Medical Association to the Joint Commission are recommending ways to effectively help health care workers cope. Some of these recommendations are self-care strategies while others are organization-wide practices. Regardless, they are all aimed at helping a psychologically at-risk workforce.


Most recommendations focus on action steps to reduce stress, increase a sense of control, and build a support system that can help mitigate mental health issues brought on by the COVID crisis. When implemented in stages according to workers’ needs – and complemented by expert intervention – they become what psychiatrist Jessica Gold refers to as “a comprehensive and multifaceted” approach to behavioral health care.

Preventive Care: What Managers Can Do

  • Create a safe space for staff to speak openly about their concerns and ask questions of leadership – without fear of reprimand.
  • Keep staff in the loop to help alleviate the stress and anxiety of the unknown. Dispel rumors as they arise.
  • Share good news, whether it is positive feedback or an uplifting patient care stories that staff can rally around.
  • Supportively monitor staff by talking with them about how they are coping with stress and offering resources to address behavioral health issues.
  • Express gratitude for the work they are doing as well as their flexibility and sacrifices throughout the pandemic.

Self-Care: What Health Care Workers Can Do

  • Remember the basics of healthy eating, exercise and getting a good night’s sleep, all of which can be forgotten during chaotic, high-stress times.
  • Take a break from the news, social media and even patients and do something relaxing and enjoyable.
  • Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation.
  • Connect with others, even if it is only virtual, for the support needed to get through another difficult day.
  • Feel feelings, rather than avoiding or burying them, to process the pain and start the healing process.

Acute Care: In-the-Moment Resources

  • Rotate workers (when possible) from highly intense, high-stress positions to lower-stress functions.
  • Be flexible with workers who have a family member affected by COVID-19.
  • Utilize trained peer support to provide outreach and mental health support to individuals and teams during times of psychological crisis.
  • Offer psychosocial support including crisis support groups, grief groups, hotlines and virtual support sessions in a centralized location.
  • Bring a crisis team on-site, if needed, to handle a critical event such as an employee death.

Treatment: Removing Barriers to Care

  • Reassure staff that seeking mental health treatment will not negatively impact their career and model this by removing stigma throughout the organization.
  • Create a plan should a worker experience a mental health crisis and need to be transitioned to off-site treatment.

Even after the coronavirus crisis passes, stress, anxiety and uncertainty can and will continue. Healthcare workers will need ongoing access to strategies, resources, and support, offered within a framework that prioritizes their mental and emotional well-being.

Note: This article represents a compilation of information published by others and does not constitute medical advice, a mental health diagnosis or treatment recommendation. It is presented for educational purposes only. Always seek the care of a mental health professional for any mental health concerns. If you are in crisis, contact your local crisis support line or call 911.


Share this post:
Topics: Mental Health

Related posts: