The Virus on the Mental Health of Frontline Workers
With the rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital comes an increased awareness of how the virus is affecting the mental health of first responders. First responders on the front lines are the firm backbones of our society amidst the chaos of a pandemic. They are constantly working around the clock and dealing with an unfamiliar, heightened stress. Frontline workers are worn and torn, exhausted from carrying the responsibility of tending an onslaught of infected patients. They are at a huge risk of catching the virus themselves, as protective supply levels are low. The Conference of Mayors conducted a survey among cities in the United States, revealing that 92% of the surveyed cities lack personal protective equipment.
Doctors, overworked and drenched in sweat, have revealed how their job can cause detrimental effects to their mental health. Christine Ziobro, 38 years old, is a senior staff nurse at NYU Langone Health who must care for her four children while working a night shift at the hospital. She remarked, “I don’t ever really cry because we’re taught to separate work and family. But sometimes it just gets [to be] too much. This morning I looked up and the doctor resident was bawling, crying in his mask, and I started crying and the other nurse started crying. We’re all human, you know, there’s only so much we can take” (Gonzalez and Nasseri, 2020).
Furthermore, Dr. Lorna Breen, a well-respected Medical Director at the New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, passed by suicide on April 26. Though she did not previously suffer from a mental illness, her father states that she seemed to be detached and distressed once she described her experiences at the hospital to him. Dr. Breen had watched thousands of patients die in the ambulance before they were even taken out. Even after treating many coronavirus patients, she took her own life when she contracted the virus herself. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” said her father (Watkins, Rothfeld, Rashbaum, Rosenthal, 2020). Doctors are accustomed to dealing with accidents and tragedies, but worrying about getting sick themselves or their families is a novel concept.
Though the job of working in the trenches of the frontlines poses physical threats, it’s time to look beyond the surface. These workers are risking not only their health but also the health of their families. They put others in front of themselves, often helping patients without dressing in necessary protective equipment. Our frontline workers make innumerable sacrifices to care for the mental health and well-being of their patients, but there’s only so much they can take: they are human too.