AUGUSTA, Ga. – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health disorder that people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events may struggle with. Frontline health care workers have been fighting COVID-19 for nearly a year and some say it is ugly.
“And that’s one of the things that COVID does, is people can’t take a breathe. They try their best, but what they’re able to bring in is not sufficient for life. And it’s essentially, almost watching them suffocate to death,” explained LeKisha Cave Johnson, a local ER Nurse.
A study done in October by the University of Turin in Italy shows that up to 35% of frontline health care workers experience traumatic stress symptoms just because of the nature of their jobs. That rate is expected to increase because of COVID-19.
Not much yet is known about the extent of how the pandemic will affect health care workers long term. The director of Pastoral Care at Augusta University Health says if it would be naive to think frontline workers won’t be affected.
“We need to be watching our health care workers carefully. Because no human can continually experience the things that we’re seeing and have it not affect them,” said Jeff Flowers, AUMC Director of Pastoral Care.
Flowers said that patients are not just a number to health care professionals, so when they watch people suffer, it’s difficult.
He said a team of counselors consistently reaches out to hospital employees to check in. Hand in hand with PTSD is the concern about suicide.
“But the thought of losing them to…losing professionals to suicide or just depression and despair that takes the out of being able to live their normal life, is overwhelming,” said Flowers.
Flowers also said that healthcare workers appreciate the support, but there is one thing people can do that will really help.
“The best thing you can do for us is to show us you take it seriously. Stay out of large groups, wear the mask, observe the protocol.”
Johnson said that burnout is a big issue in hospitals right now and that she is personally feeling the strain.
“Yes, I do feel a lot of emotional fatigue. The most difficult part for my family, is when I get home, I have nothing left to give emotionally. It’s almost shutting…sorry…it’s almost shutting down. It’s being emotionally unavailable for your family because you’ve given everything that you have,” she said.
Johnson says that because of privacy laws, frontline workers don’t feel they can talk about what they are experiencing. That makes it hard to work through their trauma.