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I want to bring people’s attention to an interview conducted with Director Deborah Marin, Professor of Psychiatry and also Director of the Center for Spirituality and Health, of the Mount Sinai Health System. This interview describes her observations about the mental health of those in her system as observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some observations based on the interview:

It felt not the way we like to practice medicine. We’re very high-tech but we’re very high-touch, too. We like to hold people’s hands and check on people, and chaplains love to speak to patients. Yet so much was done by telehealth.

As we know, COVID-19 has forced everyone to try new approaches in care. We are fortunate to have the capabilities for telehealth, yet as observed, there is an inherent challenge in not being able to be as personally connected.

We know that a large percentage of folks are experiencing grief, sadness, loss, and anxiety. Anxiety not just about getting sick but about getting loved ones sick. People are also feeling depressed and showing signs of PTSD. 

I can say I have felt all these emotions throughout these months. Being witness to illness and death on a constant basis, not within a hospital, but within a senior care facility, raised these emotions in an acute way. The challenge throughout was not feeling I had a haven. Usually, facing death and dying is something that can remain in the health care environment of one’s profession. One way to recognize burnout is when it encroaches on one’s personal life. During the pandemic, these two aspects, the personal and the professional, blended together.

People were also redeployed. In our cardiovascular institute, for example, people typically come in, get stents and get bypasses, recover, and go home. Our first COVID unit was our cardiac care unit, where it became medical intensive care units with such sick people. That’s jarring for health care workers. Their roles changed. They were no longer doing things they were used to doing.

We have been stretched to adapt and be flexible with how we work and how we interact. To have a forced role change that doesn’t feel temporary can be traumatic unto itself. People go from being experts to being novices in an instant. It is important to rely on the basics of one’s profession and recognize one’s limitations.

The other challenging aspect is that health care workers have so many other issues going on. Work-life balance has been disrupted, schools have been closed. People wonder, “Am I available enough for my kid? How am I going to get my job done?” 

A common challenge is finding balance in work and life. How much more so when everything is out of sync and where the normal support systems cannot be tapped into.

An important issue right now is to let people know things they can do to help themselves and others and find meaning. There can be growth after these events, when people realize that they’re problem-solvers or they did something they never thought they could do. Thoughts like: “I didn’t know I had it in me.” There’s a lot of meaning-making happening.

Yet, with all the challenges and traumas, most have preserved so far. We have learned to adapt and found growth in the midst of the pain. While we are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic, there is much to absorb and learn on a day to day basis.