Dr. El

May 27 is Psychology Day and this year it’s a particularly timely moment to acknowledge the impact of psychology. Along with the physical and financial havoc wreaked by COVID-19, the pandemic has negatively affected mental health, especially for those in long-term care. Recognizing Psychology Day raises mental health awareness and is a means of expressing an organizational commitment to emotional well-being.

The impact of stressors

As I stated in this article, many nursing home workers have witnessed the sudden deaths of beloved residents, risked their health and the wellbeing of their loved ones, and have strived to comply with shifting regulations, requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the lack of availability of PPE. Additionally, those in management have scrambled to protect their staff members and to keep their businesses afloat during one of the most challenging periods in long-term care history. 

In “‘I can’t turn my brain off’: PTSD and Burnout Threaten Medical Workers,” author Jan Hoffman discusses the effect of Covid-19 work on frontline staff such as emergency medical technicians, nurses and physicians, who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, unwanted upsetting memories and difficulty concentrating. Nursing home employees in the epicenter of this pandemic have been exposed to comparable stressors and many are similarly exhibiting PTSD symptoms.

Betrayal trauma

The New York Times article mentioned above also describes the concept of “betrayal trauma” — feeling overwhelmed and abandoned by those in authority who “rarely acknowledge the newly relentless demands of the job.” The concept of betrayal trauma can be applied to long-term care workers. In this case, with the delay in governmental assistance and almost universal media criticism of the efforts of nursing homes, the betrayal is by a society that knew elders in congregate settings were vulnerable but did practically nothing to assist them and their caregivers.

Acknowledgement of service

Long-term care leaders can reduce the impact of the trauma on those in long-term care through acknowledging staff efforts during this unusually distressing time and by recognizing the importance of good mental health. Psychology Day can be one occasion in an ongoing effort to attend to the emotional effects of the pandemic.

Psychology Day can be celebrated in many ways, from small gifts of plants or pizza, to disseminating information on PTSD symptoms and available supports, to connecting with the United Nations Psychology Day theme of “building bridges within and among nations.” 

While it would be wonderful to have a systemwide honoring of psychology, psychologists and mental health, even small gestures of acknowledgement can go a long way toward emotional repair. 

A few weeks ago, observing the demoralization of my coworkers (and in myself), I purchased several pots of bright orange flowers, attached notes of encouragement and placed a flowerpot at each nursing station. It was my way of being the change I wanted to see in the world, and it helped.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition and a Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.