The Economics of Mental Health and COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on us, with rising numbers of infected and dead, front-line healthcare workers keep on bearing the brunt of the outbreak with the long-term effects slowly beginning to become apparent. How do we find a balance between the mental trauma of dealing with the outbreak and the economic ramifications of an economy in tatters in the immediate aftermath?
In diagnosing the devastating toll that the pandemic has taken on our healthcare workers, we identify the mental health aspect first, chiefly because these challenges are already becoming apparent among the physicians and nurses facing this disease on the front lines. Concerning rates of insomnia, depression, and stress have been reported as these angels of mercy grapple with an invisible enemy, relentless in its march.
Many foresee endemic cases of PTSD afflicting healthcare workers in the wake of this crisis as they face impossible situations on a daily basis. Limited access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), scarce resources, and an increasing casualty rate only adds to a volatile cocktail of mental health challenges. The increasing risk of physician burnout is already taking a debilitating toll among health workers not to mention the invasive fear of infecting loved ones back home. Social distancing requirements, long hours of service, and a feeling of everybody relying on them to succeed means that many of these people are not seeking or getting the support and help that they need.
As we consider the mental health repercussions, what of the impending economic ramifications of this massive social upheaval? Already, thousands of healthcare workers in California have been furloughed or selflessly taken pay cuts – an incredible notion considering that they are the ones most at risk in bravely fighting off this outbreak.
Yes, the pandemic will come to an end and yes, we will laud our healthcare workers as the heroes that they are once we have overcome the outbreak. But we will then be faced with a seemingly impossible challenge in the aftermath – repairing a broken economy. Layoffs and closures will be felt by all, sparing nobody, least of all the healthcare industry. As hospitals and state health departments deplete their cash reserves to secure PPE and ventilators in battling the endless wave of infections, will there be anything left to keep those who have risked their lives employed? This unimaginable situation is shaping up as a real possibility, only adding to the stress and concern faced by these people already jeopardizing their own wellbeing.
This double mental health and economic blow are sure to be felt for years to come. Previous crises have exposed alarming statistics in long-term PTSD, suicides, and damaging effects in the home. A generation from now, these self-same healthcare workers will be haunted by the challenges and trauma faced today, even more so if they have nothing to show for their sacrifice in losing their jobs.
We cannot make the same mistakes as previously seen in forsaking returning war veterans. The healthcare workers of 2020 are cut from the same cloth as the armed forces. Both are men and women risking their lives every day, keeping the people of this country safe. There is help out there. If soldiers can get the assistance that they need in overcoming their trauma, so too must we avail this support to our physicians and nurses.
But we also need to start looking into long-term solutions – fast. Social policy must be formulated to build support structures now, both on the economic and mental healthcare fronts. If we lose those who are giving everything now to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic, how can we ask them to stand on the front-lines once again when the next crisis comes around?