Our front-line heroes who are waging a fierce battle for the victims of COVID-19 may be victims themselves. They may be fighting their own personal war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD as a mental disorder that can arise following a traumatic event such as war, disaster, accident or assault. PTSD became known to the public during the 1980s after the American Psychiatric Association added it to their diagnostic manual of mental disorders.
In subsequent years we learned it had been with us for many centuries under different names, such as shell shock or battle fatigue. And it had affected various groups, among them healthcare workers.
With all the trauma, illness, sadness and loss COVID-19 has brought, we can’t afford to overlook that PTSD is part of that experience and has been since the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, in March, The Washington Post warned anticipation alone of what healthcare workers would face during the pandemic might be enough to bring on what is called pre-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is complicated
As the National Center for PTSD cautions, “The well-being and emotional resilience of healthcare workers are key components of maintaining essential healthcare services.”
Some of us could have co-workers who develop PTSD. We need to be knowledgeable about what they’ll face and how we can help them moving forward. And we’ll need to know how to deal with PTSD’s effects on our workforce and our national healthcare system.
Symptoms of PTSD can come on immediately or soon after a traumatic event — or maybe months, even years later.
It can manifest as disturbing memories or dreams, fears, phobias and mood swings, or as other mental health disorders.
How people are affected depends on many variables — the duration and intensity of the trauma that caused it; their own physical and mental health status prior to it; how they react to stressors; and even their age.
What we can do
Both leadership and staff have a responsibility to understand PTSD. Leaders need to be vigilant about protecting and maintaining their staff’s health and well-being — both physical and psychological — and understand that the job challenges they face now can lead to illness later.
Staff needs to look out for one another and understand the pressures some may be feeling. They need to observe how they and their colleagues are responding to those pressures and their patients’ needs.
We can’t wait until the pandemic is over to get to work on any of this; by then it may be too late for too many front-line heroes.
Everyone needs to know the signs, be ready to identify them, and assist and advocate for those exhibiting them.
It’ll take a village
Most of us didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of 2020 when we heard early news briefs about an impending pandemic. Most couldn’t guess what it would bring, what it would cost our nation or what it could mean to our jobs, our lives, our families and our economy. It’s a scary and unprecedented time in our lives.
It’s not easy to identify who will suffer from PTSD and what it will take to treat it. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends a combination of psychotherapy and medication, along with various complementary approaches. Usually it takes an individualized approach, which requires patience and resolve on the part of patients to find what works for them. And the support of colleagues can only help.
After all they’ve given, endured and achieved on behalf of others, we need to be able to say we did all we could for them.
Over the past few months, “We’re all in this together” has become a mantra of sorts used in public service announcements and on social media to “rally the troops” and unify us in our commitment to braving this pandemic and protecting each other. When it comes to the PTSD brought on by the pandemic, we need to have the same unifying stance within each of our organizations.
Check out our free covid-19 course today.