But what about Frontline workers?
Natalia Islam, Unity Bands Correspondent, March 16, 2022
No one can deny the effects covid-19 has had over the past two years. Even though things are slowly coming back to normal, it is impossible to deny that we haven’t changed in some way or the other. We have all heard and experienced first-hand how this pandemic has led to a deterioration of mental health globally. But what about frontline workers? They go through overwhelming and stressful situations all the time as part of their jobs. The pandemic must’ve been easy for them, right?
Studies show that before the pandemic, those working in healthcare already showed higher risks of suffering from psychiatric disorders, stress and burnout. In fact, doctors are said to suffer from higher rates of suicide than the general population. After covid-19 began, these feelings of distress have only exacerbated. Every day health care workers had to expose themselves to scenarios where they were forced to continuously witness the direct effects of the pandemic, while the rest of us stayed at home.
Many studies have come forward with data on how frontline workers have been affected, and all of them had the same things to say. Frontline workers are battling — more than ever before — negative emotions and feelings of being stretched out too thin. In just three months, frontline workers reported an increase in emotional and physical exhaustion. According to a survey hosted by Mental Health America (MHA), 70% of the 1,119 frontline workers that took the survey reported difficulty in sleeping, 63% reported feeling work-related dread and 67% reported feeling too tired. Many reported feeling compassion fatigue and even questioning their career path. Mental issues directly infected the physical health of these workers, with 57% of them reporting changes in appetite and 56% reporting headaches and stomachaches. Let’s explore in detail some of the reasons why frontline workers had it so much harder than us during the pandemic.
One of the major cause of drop in mental health of frontline workers was worry over getting infected themselves or the risk of infecting loved ones. 76% of frontline workers reported they were worried about infecting their kids. Many also worried about not being able to spend enough time with their kids or be a present parent in their lives. Covid-19 also brought along with it a sense of helplessness as frontline workers were forced to deal with lack of resources such as shortage of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), all of which hindered their ability to provide the best service they could.
Another interesting issue that has arose is what we call moral injuries. This is used to describe psychological distress due to engaging in or witnessing acts that conflict with their moral beliefs and values. These may occur in various forms. Such as before covid-19, critical decisions would always be made after getting input from the patients’ families. Now, family members are no longer allowed in hospitals. Doctors and nurses now have to make decisions that affect the survival of their patients, many of which will lead to a negative outcome. Frontline workers need to prioritize one important set of values over another such as caring for their patients with contagious diseases over keeping their family members safe from infection. These injuries have a long lasting psychological, spiritual, behavioral and social impact on frontline workers.
Lastly, many frontline workers felt that they had limited coping mechanisms involving social support during the pandemic. Due to social distancing, talking and taking comfort from loved ones became even more difficult. 39% of frontline workers said that they felt they had inadequate emotional support. Imagine dealing with all this and then also enduring added stress of difficulty in obtaining daily essentials and school closures.
Frontline workers make up an integral part of our society. The work they do cannot be imitated by another. It is essential we provide practical support such as implementing infection-control measures, proactively identify workers that are at high risk of physiological distress and monitor them, and develop evidence-based prevention and treatment tools to prevent long-term psychological trauma. More support groups should be made available for frontline workers to access, and their family members should be given awareness on the importance of their support in these challenging times. We should all play a part in supporting, appreciating and helping in any way we can so that frontline workers can continue to provide their commendable services without feeling like they are losing a part of themselves.
Natalia Islam is an enthusiastic and curious Biomedical Scientist in the making with extensive background knowledge and appreciation of life at the cellular level. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends, and volunteering on her days off.
Unity Bands Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting COVID-19 response and research.