UW Department of Psychiatry supports frontline health care workers

Department news | April 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for all of us, but frontline health care workers and support staff are facing extraordinary challenges and risks: longer shifts, a daily fear of exposure for themselves and their families, increased patient anxiety and isolation and a looming surge in very sick patients. These dedicated professionals are doing their best to balance unprecedented demands at work with the needs of their own families and loved ones and the need to care for themselves.

In the face of the current crisis, the UW Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences has established a Psychiatry Peer Support Program that pairs the department’s faculty- and staff-clinicians with UW Medicine healthcare colleagues to help them manage the increased stress and anxiety during this difficult time. Within hours of the program’s launch, mental health navigators, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinical and research faculty had a virtual queue of healthcare workers from throughout UW Medicine reaching out for support. More than 80 department faculty and staff have volunteered their time and skills to provide free, informal, video, telephone and in-person supportive conversations.

Scheduling is arranged 9 AM-4 PM, Monday-Friday, but conversations are available seven days a week and into the evenings by video or phone. Requests for support can be made online via the COVID Support Request Survey or by leaving a confidential voice mail message at 206-221-2768.

The demand for mental health support is anticipated to continue beyond the acute stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from earlier pandemics (i.e. SARS and Ebola) show that health care workers will suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD for as long as two years past the acute crisis, and many studies document elevated suicide rates among medical professional.

“Ensuring the health and wellbeing of healthcare workers is essential to caring for our community during this crisis,” said Jürgen Unützer, psychiatry and behavioral sciences Chair, “and it will be critical to retaining and sustaining our healthcare workforce for the long-term.”