KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Frontline healthcare workers see and feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic every day. Even when they leave work, the impact of their job doesn’t disappear.
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists described it as an “epidemic within a pandemic,” referring to the increased rate of suicide among physicians, nurses, and first responders.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs) have been hit especially hard due to a combination of factors.
CRNAs and SRNAs work in a high-stress environment amid constant production pressure and often face human suffering and loss of life. These factors can increase susceptibility to mental health disorders, and suicide risk may increase due to access to potent medications.
CRNAs and SRNAs may also face high rates of burnout, depression, anxiety, stress, and increased risk of substance use disorder (SUD). A 2012 survey of SRNAs (Chipas, et al.) found that 47.3% of respondents reported being depressed and 21.3% reported suicidal ideation at some point during their anesthesia education.The American Association of Anesthetists
In East Tennessee, Lincoln Memorial University made resources and tools readily available for medical students to prevent this “epidemic” related to mental health from getting worse.
“We are trying to jus start this conversation. We don’t know what the outcome is, but the students seen really receptive,” said Crystal Odle, the nurse anesthesia program director at Lincoln Memorial University.
Dr. Odle is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist who speaks nationally on suicide prevention and mental health for nurses. With her students, she realized there were ways she could help the future of the field by starting mental health “training” alongside the education.
“If you see something, say something, do something. It could make the difference between life and death,” Odle said.
She encourages students to keep watch and notice changes among their peers, for example, if someone that is usually outgoing becomes isolated. That, she said, could be a sign that they could use help — or at least, someone to talk to.
Mental health professionals are available around the clock for students in LMU’s program.
“The key is communication, talking, I know a lot of us want to bottle stuff up and feel like we’re the only ones dealing with things. But we’re all going through this,” SRNA Mallory Johnson said.
Johnson is a mother of three children and said her biggest concern during the pandemic is whether she is bringing “something home” to her family, referring to the virus.
“With the pandemic going on, you kind of have to worry, will I bring this home to my family? Is this worth it?” said Johnson.
She said she’s learned to be more aware of changes in her peers, but also, in herself. She relies on her family to break from more difficult days at work.
You are not alone.
This is the message both Johnson and Odle hope frontline workers, but also, everyone keep in mind.
Infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, as well as other public health events, can cause emotional distress and anxiety.
Feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed or powerless is common during an infectious disease outbreak, especially in the face of a virus with which the general public may be unfamiliar. These feelings of distress and anxiety can occur even if you are not at high risk of getting sick.Suicide Prevention Lifeline
People that are feeling emotional distress related to COVID-19 can take actions to help support themselves and others:
- Set a limit on media consumption, including social media, local or national news.
- Stay active. Make sure to get enough sleep and rest. Stay hydrated and avoid excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol. Eat healthy foods when possible.
- Connect with loved ones and others who may be experiencing stress about the outbreak. Talk about your feelings and enjoy conversation unrelated to the outbreak.
- Get accurate health information from reputable sources. For health information about COVID-19, please contact the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov, your local healthcare provider, or your local 211 and 311 services, if available.
- The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a caring counselor.
- If you’re experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or your local crisis line.
- For coping tools and resources, visit the Lifeline website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or Vibrant Emotional Health’s Safe Space at vibrant.org/safespace.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline has highly trained advocates available 24/7 to ensure services and continue to support survivors.
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