Blog Viewer

My Promise as a Mental Health Nurse is to Raise Awareness of the Mental Health Needs for Today’s Healthcare Professionals

By Shanda Whittle posted 11-12-2021 02:42 AM

I began studying the second victim phenomenon in 2017 long before the COVID-19 pandemic would come to traumatize healthcare professionals in a way never seen in my lifetime. In the early 1990s, burnout was recognized in healthcare professionals caring for patients with HIV/AIDS and in 1988, the National Academy of Science initiated a call to action to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of programs to alleviate stress in health care workers who cared for patients with AIDS. Between 1981 and 2000 774,467 patients had been diagnosed with AIDS and 448,060 had died from the illness in the United States. Burnout among healthcare professionals became a prominent topic though it was still a widely unheard of phenomenon. The book Dying to Care: Work, Stress, and Burnout in HIV/AIDS was published in 2000 in the UK and showed that burnout in healthcare professionals caring for those with HIV/AIDS was primarily caused by:

1. Anxiety over staff safety
2. Fear of HIV contagion
3. Intense, long-term relationships with patients
4. Self-identification with people with HIV
5. Managing distressed relatives and loved-ones of patients
6. Bereavement overload
7. Grief

Sound familiar? Fast-forward 21 years to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between January 20, 2020 and November 10, 2021 there have been 46.8 million cases of COVID-19 and 759,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the United States. In January of 2018 the Joint Commission issued Quick Safety 39: Supporting Second Victims:
This safety recommendation along with Dr. Albert Wu’s 2000 editorial introducing the second victim phenomenon, and the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-being and Resilience would become the backbone of my work to support healthcare professionals who have experienced traumatic adverse events. Little did I know when I started this work for my DNP degree in 2017 that the COVID pandemic would soon ravage our healthcare system and our healthcare professionals in ways we have never seen before. It has led to an outcry for healthcare professional support and the role of resilience building as a coping mechanism to support them. I first found this published by the Joint Commission days before I was to complete my DNP program:

I knew from the first sentence of this publication: It will take years or even decades before the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses is fully understood that supporting our healthcare professionals and helping them to cope with the stresses they encountered in their roles was not an option to be negotiated. It has become a dire need balancing on the precipice of life and death for our healthcare professionals. Soon after the Joint Commission call for building resilience in healthcare professionals during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC echoed their call:

Just weeks before my DNP program completion, I learned of the death by suicide of Dr. Lorna Breen, the head of the Emergency Department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, and the call to support healthcare professionals was echoed again, this time by the National Academy of Medicine and members of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation:

There is no time like the present to support our healthcare professionals because for some, like many healthcare professionals in the COVID-era, there is no tomorrow.