Essential Workers’ Mental Health
May 18, 2020
The current public health crisis facing the world has also been deemed a mental health crisis and essential workers are impacted in unique ways. Medical providers and healthcare professionals are on the frontlines of what has been compared to a warzone. For Mental Health Awareness month, we dug into the online conversation around the mental health and wellbeing of the essential workers who continue to work selflessly.
An analysis of the past three months shows that of the 5 million online mentions of mental health and the pandemic, around 88,000 (2%) of these were specific to essential workers. The mental health conversation spiked in March as the number of infections and public concern grew within the US. While a small percentage of the total, the conversation specific to essential workers is persistent throughout March and April and continues steadily into Mental Health Awareness month.
Mentions of essential workers and mental health appear most frequently in the US, the United Kingdom, and Canada — all countries where there have been large-scale efforts to get mental health resources to essential workers. In late April, Our Frontline was launched in the UK to support the mental health of key workers during the pandemic. Ontario mental health providers have teamed up to provide free therapy services to frontline medical providers. In the US, Beyonce’s BeyGOOD Foundation launched a relief fund to support access to mental health services for essential workers during and after the crisis. And Governor Cuomo of New York is directing insurers to waive the cost of these services for essential workers throughout the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
The information shared so far includes content raising awareness of COVID-19-related mental-health challenges facing essential workers, research that has already shown the negative mental health impacts for healthcare providers, and advocacy to make resources available to this population. Two videos that received high engagement include AJ+ and NowThis, which feature the unprecedented experiences of healthcare providers. Studies in China, Italy, and the US already suggest that frontline COVID-19 workers are at a higher risk of symptoms related to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and distress, similar to what was seen after the SARS outbreak.
Healthcare providers are also facing patient-care challenges. With shifting regulations, healthcare providers are forced to change some practices and make difficult decisions to manage risk while still providing care. Providers must balance the needs of their patients with the needs of their families and loved ones. Many have chosen to distance from partners and children while treating COVID-19 patients so as to not put loved ones at risk
Along with those for doctors and nurses, concerns about the mental health of other essential workers have surfaced as well. The daily routines of workers such as grocery clerks and pharmacists have now become both risky and stressful. Parents are now taking on the role of teachers and caregivers. To meet emerging needs, mental health apps such as Tapping Solution are offering their services free to teachers and other essential workers.
Popular hashtags in this space express support and appreciation (#HealthHeroes, #NHSHeroes, #ThankYou), awareness (#SuicidePrevention, #Stress, #MentalHealthSupport) and calls to action (#FlattenTheCurve, #StayHome). Many of these mentions are coming directly from mental health services to offer support.
But, when we look specifically at some of the top COVID-19 experts on social media, they aren’t covering the topic of mental health extensively. We found one mention in a tweet by Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization, calling for the expansion of mental health resources to nurses.
The impact of this pandemic is not expected to vanish with the decline of COVID-19 cases. Many are calling for access to mental health services for frontline workers well into the future because of well-founded concerns of lasting trauma and PTSD.