How is burnout affecting mental health workers during the pandemic? How will this affect the upcoming year?
Just as the physician burnout epidemic plateaued1 and even dropped in some specialties in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Anyone concerned with burnout has to wonder: how would the virus affect those on the front lines? And those providing care in new and different ways?
As a rheumatologist in this survey wrote: “The fact that we were sent to take care of infectious patients without proper protective equipment made me feel we were betrayed in this fight.” But help may be on the way for 2021!
Although the epidemic of physician burnout has been the worst in the USA, it has been present to a lesser extent elsewhere. However, adding COVID-19 on globally has added a new challenge for physician wellness most everywhere, resulting in mixed reactions.2
To read more from the Mayo Clinic on burnout, see Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2017.
For more on telepsychiatry, see Telepsychiatry: A Life Saving Solution and Tumbling Into Telepsychiatry in the COVID-19 Era: Challenges and Hope
Many years of study of physician burnout, now supplemented by the special expertise of psychiatry, has clarified the nature of burnout.4
For more on mindfulness, see Rx: The Magical Elevator and Using Mindfulness of the Breath for Stress Reduction.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has collected organizational changes that promise to reduce physician burnout.7
The burnout epidemic of physicians in the United States has expanded to other countries. It has affected other workplaces and industries as well. In particular, those who provide necessary support services are at more personal safety risk. The overall increase has led to businesses experimenting with different ways to address that.8
When the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping through Wuhan, China, a group of Chinese-American mental health care professionals realized that their physician peers on the frontline in China needed peer psychological support.9 Utilizing a popular social media application on the smartphone, they were successful in their endeavor. When the pandemic swept through the United States, they used that model to set up the Physician Support Line that provided a telephone system of emotional support and a safe holding space for overly stressed physicians and medical students. My own small contribution was a lecture and discussion to the volunteers on the stress of racism.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He has recently been leading Tikkun Olam advocacy movements on climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.