Sustaining the Wellbeing of Military Healthcare Personnel during COVID-19 Pandemic

April 1, 2020 - Defence Stories
Adapted from guidelines by World Health Organization and Centre for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has plunged healthcare systems worldwide into a stressful and uncertain time that puts considerable demand on medical staff.

Taking care of yourself, and encouraging others to look after themselves, sustains our ability to care for those in need and to maintain essential healthcare services as the situation evolves.

You owe it to yourself, your family, your team, and your patients to take some time to maintain your own health and wellbeing.  

Challenges for Healthcare Personnel during the COVID-19 Pandemic

There are multiple sources of stress for healthcare workers and leaders, whether screening or treating those suspected to have COVID-19, or managing the ongoing essential care for our patients with other illness and injury.

  • Surge in healthcare demands may cause conflict between personal responsibilities to family and professional demands such as working long hours.
  • Ongoing risk of infection and the need to employ strict infection control measures demands constant awareness and vigilance.
  • Higher demands in the work setting including long work hours, increased patient numbers and keeping up-to-date with best practices as information about COVID-19 develops.
  • Use of Personal Protective Equipment can be uncomfortable, limit mobility and interfere with communication.
  • Reduced capacity to use social supports and other stress relieving activities, such as physical exercise, due to intense work schedules, family responsibilities and limited access to the facilities.
  • Providing emotional support to distressed patients and their families, as well as medical care, can be very draining. 
  • Helping those in need can be extremely rewarding, but this pandemic setting is unusually challenging and so healthcare workers may experience feelings such as grief, guilt, frustration, insomnia, and exhaustion.
  • Fear that as a frontline healthcare worker one might pass COVID-19 onto their friends and family as a result of their work.
  • Feelings of guilt or letting others down if you become sick with the illness or are in self-isolation.

Rest and recovery allow you to be at your best

Recognizing that this pandemic may take an emotional toll, below are some suggested positive coping strategies.

Mental Health Continuum Model
Mental Health Continuum Model

Source for infographic above

Mental Health Continuum Model - Text version

This diagram describes the range of mental health—healthy, reacting, injured and ill—and lists the behaviours associated with each part of this range.

Healthy behaviours include normal mood fluctuations, calmness and the ability to take things in stride, a good sense of humour, good performance, being in control, normal sleep patterns, few sleep difficulties, being physically well, having a good energy level, being physically and socially active, and limited or no alcohol use or gambling.

Reacting behaviours include being irritable or impatient, being nervous, being sad or overwhelmed, expressing displaced sarcasm, procrastination, forgetfulness, having trouble sleeping, having intrusive thoughts, having nightmares, having muscle tension or headaches, having low energy, decreased activity or socializing, and regular but controlled alcohol use or gambling.

Injured behaviours include anger, anxiety, pervasive sadness or hopelessness, a negative attitude, poor performance or workaholic behaviour, poor concentration or decisions, restless or disturbed sleep, recurrent images or nightmares, increased aches and pains, increased fatigue, avoidance, withdrawal, and increased alcohol use or hard-to-control gambling.

Ill behaviours include angry outbursts or aggression; excessive anxiety or panic attacks; depression or suicidal thoughts; overt insubordination; an inability to perform duties, control behaviour or concentrate; an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep; sleeping too much or too little; physical illnesses; constant fatigue; not going out or not answering phone; and an alcohol or gambling addiction or other addictions.

During times of increased stress, it is common for healthcare personnel, whether providing frontline patient care or in leadership roles, to enter the Reacting (Yellow) Zone of the Mental Health Continuum. This is a normal response, and most people will use their own positive coping strategies to manage the increased demands. It is important to monitor your health and wellbeing. Note any significant changes in behaviour (like those listed in the Injured (orange) or Ill (red) sections of the table) and listen to friends and family members if they express concern for you. Ask for help if you feel you are on the right-hand side of the Continuum, or are concerned about your ability to care for yourself, your family, or patients. Reach out as appropriate to a peer, supervisor or a professional. 

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, reach out. Options include:

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