Psychologist: Healthcare workers are ‘humans battling an inhuman disease’


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A psychologist at Women & Infant’s Hospital says that now more than ever, those on the front lines of the pandemic need to reach out if they find themselves struggling.

Dr. Margaret Howard, the division director of the Center for Women’s Behavioral Health at the hospital, said due to the severity of the pandemic, many providers may be overwhelmed with new emotions which can be hard to set aside.

The New York Times recently reported that a top doctor at a Manhattan hospital took her own life after treating several COVID 19 patients.

“Health care workers who are working directly with coronavirus patients are experiencing something they have never experienced in their professional careers,” Howard said.

Since there is no clear timeline on when the pandemic will end, Howard acknowledges that it can be tough to remain positive.

“The compass of healthcare providers points towards understanding disease – relieving suffering and providing hope – but the coronavirus really disregards this compass,” she said.”For many healthcare workers, it’s a sense of failure if you will, the guilt and the ineffectiveness of treating the flow of patient after patient afflicted with the virus can become unbearable.”

Howard said another challenge for healthcare workers is that they may be isolated from their families in an effort to protect them from the virus. Isolation, Howard said, only adds to the immense pressure.

“Tragically, some providers are overwhelmed, exhausted, and cut off from normalizing supports and routines fall into despair,” she said. “They lose hope. For some, this loss of hope, coupled with despair, can lead to thoughts of suicide. Some, as we have heartbreakingly learned, succumb to these thoughts and take their own lives.”

Since healthcare workers are constantly on the front lines of the pandemic, Howard said it’s vital that they receive mental health care if they feel they need it.

She said both Care New England and Lifespan offer a support hotline for their employees. She also said the state offers BH Link for anyone who may want to talk with a professional.

“It is vitally important for healthcare workers who are experiencing psychic pain to remember that they are not alone,” she said. “They must reach out, seek support, seek help – because with help, they will recover. What they are experiencing is not moral, professional, or character failure. It simply means they are human, battling an inhumane disease.”

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