Hospitals work to tackle mental health problems among UNC, Duke healthcare workers amid pandemic

There is no question it's been a challenging year but even more so for healthcare workers.

"For people working in hospitals, it's been nothing like they've ever seen in their lifetime," said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chair of the department of psychiatry at UNC.

Now there is a concentrated effort at some Triangle hospitals to address the mental health crisis among its staff. Resources were always available pre-pandemic, but Dr. Meltzer-Brody said they're trying to meet people where they are.

"It has been traumatic to people in different ways and the lasting impact will affect people in different ways -- some more profoundly than others," she said.

There are virtual support groups with enormous demand, according to Dr. Meltzer-Brody. In addition, employees can use a stress tracker which is a broad-based approach to measure anxiety. There's also a Heroes Health App as well as the Healing Heroes Hotline -- a 24-hour call-in service statewide for all UNC Health professionals.

"We've had people calling in, we're calling out and to educate the community and educate leaders on how to bring the message that this is not a usual business," she said.

At Duke University Hospital, they're trying to help employees the same way.

"The concept of heroic stoicism is noble in its intent but it's something we're proactively trying to support and find ways to reach out to people when they're struggling," said Dr. Jonathan Bae, associate professor of pediatrics at Duke.

They've launched self-guided teaching as well as "Conversations with Colleagues." There are also chaplains and other teams rounding in COVID-19 units to talk to healthcare workers at the moment.

"My belief is that people are struggling way more than they're willing to admit and we've been measuring this and this is what our survey data has been showing," Dr. Bae said.

A big positive is telepsychiatry -- employees and others no longer have the excuse of "not being able to make it to an appointment."
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