With more than 40,000 coronavirus cases in Michigan, mental health advocates say they fear a patchwork treatment network and future budget shortfalls could leave a second wave of victims — people who take their own lives.
“This is a perfect storm, unfortunately, for suicide,” said Kevin Fischer, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a nonprofit advocacy group.
“We’ve seen it coming. But what are we going to do to prevent it?”
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Srijan Sen, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, was studying the mental health of health care workers under intense stress. Now he’s looking at the impact COVID-19 on health care workers in 120 U.S. hospitals, including five in southeast Michigan.
Sen likens the toll of the coronavirus on health care workers to that for soldiers at war. He said that’s particularly so for those in southeast Michigan hospitals overwhelmed in early April by the surge in COVID-19 cases that saw some hospitals forced to store bodies in freezer trucks.
“There are real parallels between the two,” he told Bridge.
“There is this issue of moral distress, where you feel like what’s happening to patients is not in line with your understanding of morals and ethics. If you feel like there is a patient you normally would save and that patient is dying, that is going to be really hard on health care providers.”
Sen said the longer COVID-19 cases continue, the greater the mental health cost to these workers.
“The doctor that works 70 hours a week and sleeps in a motel is not going to be a good doctor a month from now. Extended trauma is a huge driver of mental health problems.
“These health care workers will need help.”
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