When you are a behavioral health provider, the safety challenges are high as you are responsible for the well-being of others. This situation is magnified during COVID-19. Make one careless mistake and the protection of patrons and the healthcare staff will be compromised, in addition to putting the families at risk. Therefore, taking precaution for the front-line workers is the key to maintaining a functioning and shielded environment.
For behavioral health workers, being healthy starts with them. Many behavioral health providers are experiencing increasing levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other forms of stress. If you are compelled to still see people face to face, no matter how frequently, your daily responsibilities are putting you at an increased risk of getting sick. That is stress that other people may not understand. The bravery, commitment and dedication are indeed commendable. However, there are ways that can make it easier for you to handle the stress.
If you are a healthcare worker engaging in face to face encounters, you may come in contact with the sick or even carriers of the disease who may not appear sick. Screening staff and making sure the staff uses Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks and sanitizers, reduces the risk to patients and other employees.
Immediately, alert the staff and patients of new protocols as they are implemented by the health services. Post educational information for the other workers about keeping themselves safeguarded from infectious diseases, and detecting early signs, symptoms and the restrictions they may have to follow. Communication tools can be found on the CDC website. Communicate effectively with the staff, patients, and their families. Effective communication is required with the COVID-19 carriers to make them understand their role in limiting the spread, while also maintaining better morale.
Leaders must make sure that all staff have the PPE they need, regardless of the inequalities of the workforce in terms of high-risk groups, and racial disparities. Though impossible to remove, these disparities should be acknowledged and addressed. CDC guidelines currently recommend suspending all groups and activities with more than 10 people. Non face-to-face communication should be encouraged all the time. Visitors should only be allowed during unavoidable circumstances. Though this may sound harsh, COVID-19 is highly contagious, and precaution is always better than cure.
Every healthcare worker, including behavioral health workers, should screen themselves before every shift. Screening by RT-PCR (real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) testing is ideal and is recommended as soon as it becomes available at your location. Antibody testing is useful in determining prior infection for COVID-19.
Other simple measures such as not roaming around the house in the same footwear that you wore at work, taking your mask and clothes from outside straight to the laundry bin/dustbin as soon as you’re home, and taking a shower before touching anything may help in reducing the risks.
A safety plan in case of symptoms
COVID-19 is a relatively unknown disease. No matter how many safety precautions you follow, there are still chances that you may become its next victim. It’s wise to keep a track of the symptoms and ensure they do not worsen. Some basic steps you can follow are:
If symptoms occur at work, notify your manager or authorities, leave the workplace and contact a medical professional immediately.
There are some basic questions that you should be able to answer beforehand to reduce any last-minute panic. Some questions to answer would include: Where will you isolate? How will you get away from your family to protect them? How will you be compensated during the quarantine? How long will your employer expect you to remain off-duty? What is the policy for returning to work? Are there office tasks you can do from home when you are under quarantine?
Planning and preventing illness at home
If you do start showing symptoms, there is no need to panic. Other than maintaining basic hygiene like washing hands, surface cleaning, cough and sneeze hygiene, you can also discuss with your family about the next safety measures to ensure zero transmission to others. The key aim here is to help them feel less overwhelmed and more in control of the situation. Consider separate living spaces. Create a plan for childcare and pet care. Immediate healthcare services should take the priority in your emergency during these times. Create a family plan in places where you can isolate yourself. Review the supply checklists.
Recognize when you need a break
Being in the middle of a pandemic is persistent stress. This physical and mental pressure is more easily manageable when you have time to step back, relax and recover. But when it’s chronic, it is important to be proactive to manage it. Dealing with continuous pressure and strain may result in burnout and compassion fatigue, leading to decreased compassion and empathy for others. Increasing demand for work both at home and workplace may also lead to enhanced struggles with feelings of resentment, and even paranoia.
There are more obvious signs too: unusually-evident worry, anxiety, emotional sensitivity, and frequent irritability. However, signs which are visible only to you, such as changes in appetite and trouble sleeping, recurring thoughts, and dreams or flashbacks, are important to keep a track of. Though taking time off may help, if they persist and you have difficulty functioning, seek help. Remember, you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
S.E.L.F Check-In and Care
Narrating your story helps the brain regulate the traumatic events. Encouraging and providing guidance for S.E.L.F check-ins without intruding, respecting and supporting the co-worker, supervisee or family-member’s problem-solving abilities can help navigate through the crisis together. Focus on encouraging each other’s S.E.L.F Care in practical and concrete ways. The S.E.L.F Check-in and Care is based on the Sanctuary Model of Dr. Sandra Bloom. Here is how the importance of feeling safe works on Bloom’s four pillars:
SAFETY: Am I feeling safe? If not, what’s going on?
EMOTIONS: Can you keep your emotions in check and relax?
LOSS: Can you let go of sadness to welcome joy?
FUTURE: What can I do next to make my immediate future more hopeful? What do I need?
Personal Wellness and Resiliency
Remember, as a behavioral worker, you can’t possibly exhaust all your resources on others all at once. This can’t be repeated enough. You have to take care of yourself. For this, creating a Personal Wellness and Resiliency plan helps you prioritize things that require your immediate attention. Assess, Plan and Connect. Evaluate your health by asking the following questions: What gets you stressed and why? What are your routines that need to change? Plan your self-care routines as it helps you stay in control, such as thinking of how to better use the time to take care of yourself. Connect to people. How can you include others in your self-help routine? Who can you turn to for support?
We still don’t know when the pandemic is going to end, and when ‘normal’ times will return. All we have to help us through these unprecedented times is each other. Then again, you can only help others if you help yourself. Do not hesitate to seek help from various online resources and helplines when you need to. Your safety comes first.