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Coronavirus Impact: Healthcare Workers' Mental Health In Jeopardy

BROCKTON (CBS) -- Nurse Amy Smith has been on the job for 25 years, now caring for coronavirus-only patients at Brockton Hospital. She says it's an anxiety she's never experienced before.

"There's an anxiety of anticipation. We're not sure what is coming through the door and the department is unusually still," she said.

Adding to her stress, she's now living apart from her husband and two children out of fear for their health.

"Now I have my loved ones to worry about. That's a stress I can't fix and I can't make it go away," Smith said.

A study of healthcare workers in China while they were fighting the coronavirus found high rates of depression, anxiety, distress and insomnia.

The stress on healthcare providers in the midst of the pandemic is an increasing concern. As much as they are giving critical help, they're not helping themselves.

"We sometimes forget in our quiet moments that we need our own rescue," Smith said.

Dr. Beth Lown, chief medical officer at the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, said now is the time to prepare. She's concerned about a second pandemic of mental health in the healthcare community.

"There is this culture of medicine, clinicians in particular, especially physicians, that we're taught not to exhibit weakness," Dr. Lown said.

Smith said she is more likely to turn to a co-worker who can empathize with her experience.

"Sometimes we need someone to meet us where we're at," she said. "A co-worker can do that better than someone who doesn't know the back story."

Just as important as PPE, masks and ventilators, experts hope hospitals are taking the mental temperature of their workers.

"That's why things like psychological first aid and peer support programs are very important right now. Some have them built in and some do not," Dr. Lown said.

Smith said there's no face to the virus and no way to avoid it. She's trying to chart a course in uncharted territory.

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