May 6, 2020

Why I joined a study on Covid-19's mental health impact—and you should too

Daily Briefing

    These are unprecedented times in the health care industry. While the United States has handled the emergence of new viruses like Ebola and Zika, we have not seen an outbreak on this scale in over a century.

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    The reality of that means everyone is working to solve previously unanswered questions: scientists and researchers are working to find a vaccine and a method to properly treat Covid-19; public health experts are searching for long-term ways to contain the spread of Covid-19; and health systems scaled their teams and facilities to meet unprecedented levels of demand.

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    Those efforts have pushed teams to their limits, particularly providers. They are working long hours, while caring for highly contagious patients with limited supplies of PPE. In areas hit the hardest, stories have emerged about the stress of treating a volatile and little understood disease. Seemingly healthy patients can turns for the worse, and codes from patients falling into respiratory distress become a routine part of the workday.

    And while health care workers have risen to the occasion, there's one more unknown: How are stressors related to Covid-19 affecting the mental health of health care workers over time.

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    NIH and the National Institute of Mental Health have opened a new study to answer this question—and they are actively recruiting participants over the age of 18 who work in the health care field.

    The study questions ask about your work activities, mental health history and symptoms, stress, physical health, substance use, and day-to-day activities. The entire study is done online. You are asked to complete an initial survey and a survey when the study ends. Ideally, participants will also be willing to complete similar questionnaires one, two, three, six, and 12 months from now.

    When the new coronavirus first came from China to the United States, I did a literature search looking for information on how health care providers are affected by epidemics. There was some research done in association with SARS, MERS, H1N1, and Ebola. They all noted that health care providers experienced anxiety, depression, and PTSD after being in quarantine and isolation as well as from delivering care to affected patients. But we need to understand more.

    Although the majority of people who get Covid-19 have a relatively easy course, the other 20% may become seriously ill. We have experienced more suffering and death with this epidemic than any other. For the future of health care and the protection of all our providers, we need to learn more about the effects of delivering care under these circumstances. The news has already reported at least one suicide of a physician in association with caring for Covid-19 patients.

    I enrolled and completed the initial questionnaire for this study. It was easy to do. The questionnaire is divided into sections so if you only have time to complete part of it at the first sitting, that’s okay. Questions are all multiple choice. The researchers stated it may take 30 minutes for the baseline questionnaire and that was close to my experience.

    The study can be found at: https://covidhcwstudy.ctss.nih.gov.

    Please pass this information along to your colleagues and consider participating in the study so the experiences of healthcare workers during this very difficult time can be better understood.

    Thank you.

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