New Program Supports Mental Health for Health Care Workers

New Program Supports Mental Health for Health Care Workers

Nonprofit MN Mental Health Advocates has rolled out a free mental health program for the state’s health care workers.

Stress is mounting for EMTs, doctors, nurses, and other frontline health care workers, who are leading the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

To address the increased risk of secondary trauma, MN Mental Health Advocates  has established a new program that provides mental health support for health care workers. Aside from the risk of contracting the virus, health care workers also face emotional trauma, said founder and executive director Shireen Sakizadeh McConnell. Health care workers have essentially become stand-in family for sick patients, who aren’t allowed to have actual family members at their bedside during the pandemic.

“You’re looking at a population that are taught very early in their careers that they need to have thick skin. And thick skin isn’t going to help you if you’re dealing with any sort of PTSD or any other trauma,” McConnell said.

The nonprofit’s program is free to health care workers and can be accessed online. It provides health care workers tools to support their mental health, such as education, trauma-informed care, and peer support networks. The program also is designed to help health professionals navigate care pathways and get connected with therapists who have experience treating health workers.

“The problem with letting these things go––just with any other mental illness––is that left untreated, this population is at high risk for substance abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. And we know that in this unique, unprecedented time regarding the pandemic, that this population is already experiencing signs of trauma,” McConnell said.

Over 50 therapists specializing in counseling healthcare workers have reached out to her and are opening spaces in their schedules to provide much-needed counseling for health professionals.

MN Mental Health Advocates hopes to teach health workers about the symptoms of things like PTSD, so that they can identify the signs in themselves and colleagues.

“Secondary trauma is something that we’re all at risk of experiencing, just by being exposed to any traumatic event. Health care workers are exposed to these traumatic events in every patient that they take care of,” she said. “This current situation just compounds what they’re experiencing and puts them at an even higher risk.”

The nonprofit says it has been providing free services for other Minnesotans, too. Since the pandemic, it has seen a 600 percent increase in individuals coming to its website requesting help, she said. This reflects the pending concerns of a mental health crisis stemming from the isolation of social distancing, something the mental health industry is working hard to address.

Data from the Journal of the American Medical Association show that half of the frontline healthcare workers in China dealing with Covid-19 reported symptoms of depression, nearly half reported anxiety symptoms, a third reported insomnia, and three-quarters reported distress.

“Knowing that we’ll be seeing an additional burden on the system with health care workers seeking support, it’s even more critical that the community supports organizations like my own so that we can support the population, keep them healthy, and make sure that they’re safe and resilient,” McConnell said.