There is a huge group of unacknowledged first responders in this global pandemic — mental health care professionals. Of course, emergency room and ICU staff (plus grocery store, delivery workers and more) deserve huge kudos right now. What they’re being asked to do is monumental and the lack of personal protective equipment, for example, is appalling.
However, in addition to the physical crisis of COVID-19-positive patients I worry about the impending mental health crisis. Acute stress response, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, panic and depressive symptoms as a result of this pandemic are due to skyrocket. These conditions will manifest in self-harm, suicidality, divorce and an uptick in domestic violence, substance abuse and inequality of every kind. The increased acuity I’ve seen in my small practice alone is telling, and this doesn’t account for the surge of untreated issues coming down the pipeline. While the pandemic will eventually cease, the psychological effects will certainly be felt for generations to come.
As mental health professionals we aren’t physically exposed to the COVID-19 virus thanks to telehealth and the ability to see our clients virtually. Yet, we are emotionally and energetically exposed. It is our job to create a safe space for the hardest aspects of our client’s lives and as a colleague recently said, “we are professional holders of hope and we are not OK.” Housing our client’s vicarious traumas and anxieties in addition to our own stressors are undoubtably a huge load to carry. As the tragic suicide of Dr. Lorna Breen from Manhattan Hospital showed us, even the most poised, educated professionals aren’t immune to compassion fatigue, trauma and burnout.
I am not sharing this because I personally need credit. Rather, I see this as an opportunity to raise awareness about mental health issues both worldwide and right here in our own backyard. Alaska, let’s take care of each other and thank you for listening.
— Holly Brooks
Licensed Professional Counselor
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