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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Suicides of two health care workers hint at the Covid-19 mental health crisis to come

Wendy Dean
Originally posted 30 April 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Denial, minimizing, and compartmentalizing are essential strategies for coping with a crisis. They are the psychological tools we reach for over and over to get through harrowing situations. Health care workers learn this through experience and by watching others. We learn how not to pass out in the trauma bay. We learn to flip into “rational mode” when a patient is hemorrhaging or in cardiac arrest, attending to the details of survival — their vital signs, lab results, imaging studies. We learn that if we grieve for the 17-year-old gunshot victim while we are doing chest compressions we will buckle and he will die. So we shut down feeling and just keep doing.

What few health care workers learn how to do is manage the abstractness of emotional recovery, when there is nothing to act on, no numbers to attend, no easily measurable markers of improvement. It is also hard to learn to resolve emotional experiences by watching others, because this kind of intense processing is a private undertaking. We rarely get to watch how someone else swims in the surf of traumatic experience.

Those on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those in the hardest-hit areas, have seen conditions they never imagined possible in the country with the most expensive health care system in the world. Watching patients die alone is traumatic. Having to choose your own safety over offering comfort to the dying because your hospital or health care system doesn’t have enough personal protective equipment to go around inflicts moral injury. When facing the reality of constrained resources and unthinkable choices, working to exhaustion, and caring for patients at great personal risk, the only way to get through each shift is to do what is immediately at hand.

The info is here.