During and post-pandemic, how do we care for caregivers with PTSD?

By | 2020-08-24T15:31:58-04:00 August 24th, 2020|1 Comment

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.


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About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York (now Northwell Health System) where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of their System hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in nursing administration and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. A former board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing, Eileen currently is a member of the Adelphi University, College of Nursing and Public Health Advisory Board.

One Comment

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    Nurse undone, alice August 30, 2020 at 1:27 am - Reply

    The worst cases of PTSD were not brought on by a pandemic but by false complaints to the Board of Nursing (az) and he BON running with it. Crazy stuff and irrelevant, personal things about the nurse put in the www by the BON. Statements that anyone on a BON should know are crazy talk. Such as their main ‘witness” stating , “she was always talking about aliens are work, not the illegal ones the outer space ones” and the nurse losing their license over this . The BON ordering forced counseling, when the nurse refuses to go along with crazy, the AZBON revoked. based on “mentally incompetent to practice nursing”. Yes, it is like finding out a pandemic is going to hit, finding out the BON operates like this!

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