First Responders & Medical Professionals – Coping with COVID

first responders covid-19 mental health

First responders and medical professionals, including police officers, firefighters, nurses, doctors, certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, etc. are all working diligently to keep our communities safe during the Covid-19 outbreak. They are taking on all of the normal risks of their already dangerous jobs by maintaining the front line care needed to support others. Additionally, first responders and medical professionals are also bearing the risks posed by exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Treating coronavirus patients, or risking exposure to coronavirus patients, is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Front line workers are maintaining strength for the individuals they care for and serve and are continuing to do their jobs, at great risk. Those who live with other individuals, including family members and loved ones, could carry the virus home and spread it to others in their household. This is terrifying – the fear that you may bring something into your home that could be harmful to those you love is extremely anxiety-inducing.

Currently, many medical professionals and first responders are functioning on adrenaline and are continuing to serve their communities. When they start to get a bit of rest and the adrenaline begins to wear off, many are left with an overwhelming sense of anxiety, fear, and depression. We’re living in very scary times – no one alive in our lifetime has gone through something of this scale previously, and it’s completely unchartered territory. People who aren’t on the front lines are struggling with their mental health during this pandemic, and the stress on those continuing to serve day in and day out keeps building.

It’s important that those who are struggling find ways to take care of themselves during this crisis. Whether it’s getting a daily walk in, dancing it out to loud music, reading a book, or screaming into a pillow, we all have to relieve our stress somehow. With so many people isolating as a result of the virus, mental health is suffering. Some turn to substances as a way to cope with their stress and what may start as a glass of wine to relax before bed can easily develop into a habit that’s far worse.

Association with Mental Health

Addiction isn’t something that anyone sets out to experience, but for those currently in recovery or with behavioral health diagnoses, it’s important to find time to do the things that center and ground you. For those who may be finding themselves struggling and increasing their intake of alcohol or other substances, help is available. Though in-person support groups aren’t operating at the moment, there are AA meetings available 24/7 via Zoom. You can find listings here: http://aa-intergroup.org/directory.php. There are also hotlines that you can reach out to and therapists are working via telehealth to continue to offer support.

Mental health is not something to take for granted – stress from one’s job can contribute to depression, PTSD, trauma, and anxiety, all of which are often medicated or ‘coped with’ via substances. When dealing with the stressors of normal, routine life, and adding in the anxiety of a global pandemic, it can be tough to maintain balance and a positive outlook. If you find yourself coping via self-medicating, it may be time to consider getting some help. We are only able to offer support and do our jobs fully when we’re at our healthiest. If we’re struggling, and not in a good place emotionally, it’s very difficult to provide care for others.

Right now many don’t have the luxury of taking time away to focus on their mental health and well-being. Due to the novel coronavirus, it’s all hands on deck and everyone is doing their part to flatten the curve and save as many lives as possible. That weight of this sits heavy on all of us, but especially for those who are being exposed to the virus every day. It’s easy to lose track of prioritizing one’s personal needs when you’re in the thick of the pandemic every day. Even if only for a few minutes, taking some time to engage in self-care can make a world of difference.

Struggles & Coping with COVID-19

According to the CDC, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

We all respond differently to stressful situations, and those at greater risk of contracting the virus may respond more strongly. This includes:

  • Older people and those with chronic diseases
  • Children and teens, whose brains are not yet fully developed and as such have a more heightened response to stress and a change in routine
  • People who are helping with the response to Covid-19, such as doctors, health care providers, and first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including substance use disorder

There are a variety of ways to cope with stress and reduce the risk of relying on substances or other unhealthy behaviors, including:

  • Take deep breaths, stretch, and meditate
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals as often as possible
  • Exercise regularly, get fresh air and plenty of sleep
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Connect with your loved ones – whether via Zoom, Facetime, Houseparty, etc., there are options available and ways to stay connected with your loved ones

For those struggling with substance use disorders, there is help available. Whether you’re a first responder, front-line worker, or someone staying at home and contributing in that way, support is out there. Defining Wellness Centers can assist you in identifying what will help your particular situation. Please call us to learn more about how we can help you.