Exhaustion. Depression. A lack of focus. Thoughts of suicide. Prior to COVID-19, these symptoms of burnout have steadily grown among health care workers in the United States.
As the novel coronavirus overwhelms the health care system, workers who already may have been feeling the effects of burnout are now asked to give more time and energy to the growing pandemic and it is taking a great toll, said Kimberly Delbo, a 25-year veteran of the health care industry and co-founder of Radiant & Resilient Leadership, a company designed to give support to health care workers.
“Nurses are less healthy than the general public, and that’s sad because it’s almost like they are sacrificing their own health to take care of their neighbor,” Delbo said.
Even before the coronavirus first was detected in Wuhan, China, a 2019 report showed that 35% to 54% of health care workers have “substantial symptoms of burnout.” Many even show signs of post traumatic stress disorder, she added, “which is sobering.”
Throughout the country, 39% of physicians report depression and about 400 commit suicide every year – twice the rate of the general population.
The causes of burnout can vary, ranging from poor structural systems in the workplace, delineation of responsibilities or a lack of support from supervisors, Delbo said.
“They need to feel that they are safe,” Delbo said. “Can they talk to their supervisor about their mental health issues?”
But often, providers can become exhausted because they spend so much time caring for others that they forget to care for themselves.
“We are wired to care for others,” Delbo said. “But it’s so important to realize that we need to care for ourselves. It’s not a negative thing to take time away to care for ourselves, and we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because of that.”
The global pandemic is “shining a light on the cracks in our health care system,” Delbo said, and she hopes it will inspire hospitals and medical centers to evaluate their structures and systems.
“The organizations that take care of their employees and adapt to change will be the ones to survive,” she said.
But, until then, Delbo and her business partner, Angela Hummel, have launched Caring Circle, a virtual community and dedicated space for health care workers to share their fears and frustrations and learn practical tips to address and promote personal well-being.
Health care workers can join the virtual meeting every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Delbo encouraged those in need to step into the circle and be vulnerable.
“We are there to offer support and tips,” she said.