Helping the Helpers: COVID-19 Burnout

he uncharted territory of the COVID-19 pandemic is filled with worry, grief, physical and social isolation, fear and depression. Many people are searching for guidance on how to cope during a time of crisis for which no one was prepared.

Given our present scenario, the role of the mental health professional becomes crucial; by providing relief, support and psychological first aid to people unable to cope with the ongoing situation, our aim is to improve their quality of life and well-being. Psychologists and counselors acknowledge that the need for mental health care is more widespread than ever before. Many counselors are working seven days a week to help as many people as possible who are struggling with the mental health repercussions of this pandemic. As such, the very professionals who are giving so much of themselves are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Mental health clinicians, which include psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, social workers and therapists, may experience burnout when exposed to prolonged work-related stress. With many clinicians overextending themselves to help as many people as possible, we are seeing an upswing in counselors feeling emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. Due to the demanding and draining nature of psychotherapy, we are already a vulnerable population; we are ‘helpers,’ empaths who care deeply about our clients. It is important to note that we have the same fears, worries and uncertainties about the pandemic as the people who are seeking our help.

The best practice that mental health professionals can do to help with burnout is to engage in self-care. Self-care enhances mental health workers’ overall wellbeing, and also enhances our insight and connections to our clients’ problems.

Some common self-care strategies include making adequate time for yourself; doing things you enjoy; taking care of your physical and spiritual self; spending quality time in nature and with loved ones; and saying no to things that will add stress to an already stressful time.

While mental health professionals may feel guilty for taking time and setting personal boundaries to care for ourselves, we need to be reminded that self-care is a good thing!  I have found that taking a break from social media and news channels has been beneficial to my personal wellbeing. Others have found mindfulness and meditation helpful in avoiding burnout.

There is no doubt that there will be an increased need for mental health care for the unforeseeable future. Our goal through this is to make sure that we take care of ourselves, so we can be there for you.

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment.  412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.