Working within high stress environments is familiar for first responders, law enforcement, emergency room and intensive care staff. Frontline workers have been trained to maintain a level of composure while performing complicated procedures like gunshot wounds, heart attacks, and patients coding. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new challenge to this group of professionals; a chronic level of stress and uncertainty that threatens both the physical and mental health of the frontline workers.
When the COVID-19 outbreak erupted in mid-March, medical professionals world-wide scrambled to acquire enough personal protective equipment for workers to care for those infected. Many health care providers and first responders were directly infected while responding to the pandemic, while others work tirelessly to combat the spread. Doctors and paramedics, who are accustomed to responding to virtually any tragedy, have had to shift their focus due to the risk of getting sick themselves, or infecting their friends or family. In an effort to lower the risk, many frontline workers have made the difficult decision to socially isolate themselves; making arrangements for their family to spend time apart from one another.
“Quarantine has a serious effect on mental health,” stated Tom Spooner, co-founder of Warriors Heart, a private treatment facility providing care for addiction and chemical dependency & PTSD for active military, veterans and first responders. “Isolation, depression and substance abuse have proven to get worse during social distancing. And while all the preventative measures put in place are to protect, we at Warriors Heart want to do everything we can to ensure these issues don’t escalate.”
Research conducted after the SARS epidemic suggests that 68% of frontline workers experienced a high level of stress. And more recently, studies found that during the coronavirus outbreak in China, nearly one in every two health care workers reported clinically concerning levels of depression and anxiety.
In a study, two years after the SARS outbreak in Toronto, health care workers and first responders who responded to the outbreak reported elevated levels of professional burnout, traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Years later, the quarantine was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms, which were more severe in health care workers.
“We rely heavily on Paramedics, EMT’s, ER surgeons and other medical personnel who are the first line of defense for medical trauma,” stated Spooner. “As a population minority, they are regularly asked to go above and beyond their call of duty, resulting in the development of patterns for substance abuse or other types of addiction due to their response to job stress. These situations create vicious cycles that are incredibly difficult to overcome alone.”
Warriors Heart has taken this into consideration with the underlying concern that medical professionals and first responders will be the patients of tomorrow, if they seek care. The team is making efforts to ensure they are well versed in understanding concepts such as ‘moral injury'(the psychological impact of bearing witness to unacceptable things or making decisions that contravene the morals of the individual making them, resulting in severe guilt and shame).
“Many of these folks are fresh out of training and are faced with following new protocols about which patients will not receive life support if there are resource scarcities,” stated Spooner. “These are decisions some of these first responders never thought they would face, and now they are triaging situations similar to this, multiple times a day.”
As the pandemic wanes in the months ahead, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals will play a vital role in addressing the symptoms in frontline health care workers, first responders and law enforcement. Treatment facilities anticipate having to provide care for these patients suffering from PTSD due to COVID-19, and aide on the recovery of these specific occupational hazards.
Highly stressful situations affect people deeply and can create feelings of detachment or loneliness. Warriors Heart is fully equipped to provide much of the needed mental health care through telehealth services, including video visits with mental health professionals, mobile apps, online resources, and virtual peer support, as well as in-person treatment at their facility.
Warriors Heart recognizes that those living with SUD, PTSD and MTBI suffer from a disease of isolation. These real-time connections allow them to successfully navigate through their recovery while in the company of people who personally understand each experience.
At Warriors Heart, Warriors in every walk of life are treated, offering a variety of treatment for those undergoing the damaging effects of PTSD as well as chemical dependency. For those who have fought battles to defend our country and our citizens, fighting the battle against addiction and depression doesn’t need to be done alone.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, reach out. Call us anytime at 1-844-958-1183 or fill out the contact form on this page.