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Health Care Workers and the Covid-19 Pandemic: One Year Later, is Burnout inevitable?

In March 2020, the respiratory illness SARS-CoV-2 (now referred to as Covid-19) took the world by storm and altered our way of life. No-one understands the drastic impact that this pandemic has had on the world better than those individuals who have worked on the frontline since the start of the outbreak. 

While most of the world was told to self-isolate in their homes with immediate family members, healthcare workers on the frontline worked long arduous hours, faced risk of personal infection, risk of transmission to family members, loss of patients frequently, to name just a few. To some extent, we are able to anticipate the psychological distress this pandemic can have on some of the most valuable workers during this time. Past outbreaks of diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 have shown the impact on hospital health-care workers. One study found that some hospital workers showed the lasting effects of chronic stress years after the sars outbreak.

Understanding the psychological impact can help understand the help healthcare workers may need in the months and years to come following Covid-19. A recent chinese study found that 50% of healthcare workers were experiencing depression, 45% were experiencing anxiety, and 34% were experiencing disruptions in sleeping. 

Chronic workplace stress, or “burnout”, leads to emotional exhaustion, reduced motivation, irritability, difficulty focusing, and an increase in error. Burnout is also linked to higher rates of turnover and absenteeism. 

What can individuals do if they find themselves burnt out? There are several steps to take if someone finds themselves experiencing the very impairing symptoms of burnout. First things, reach out to someone for help. Burnout is unfortunately a common phenomenon, and feeling like others might share your experience can help in lessening the overwhelming experience.

Other steps to take in lessening the symptoms of burnout include; spending quality time with those you love, making time for taking care of yourself (getting enough sleep, exercise, etc.), refrain from overextending yourself and taking on too much.

Burnout should not solely be an individual problem to deal with. Hospitals and employers should also play an active role in eliminating their employees symptoms and likelihood of developing burnout. Burnt out employees  impacts the entire workplace including patients and their families.

Individuals should not feel alone in their experiences and hospitals should aim to do whatever they can-including providing mental health supports to their employees- in order to address the long-term psychological impact that Covid-19 will have.

Written by Jaclyn Gordan

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