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People testing positive for the coronavirus are the main concern nationwide, but the people who care for them are coping with their own mental health issues, which have gone mostly untreated.
But doctors and nurses working on the front lines of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic now have a new avenue to help deal their own issues.
Dr. Allison Cotton, an assistant professor in the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, worked with four other doctors across the country to help develop a platform for health care professionals to speak with volunteer psychiatrists.
The platform is available via doxy.me/physiciansupportline and is similar to Zoom or Microsoft teams video meetings.
Physicians on front lines battling anxiety, guilt
Cotton, along with doctors Mona Masood, Smita Gautam, Ben Cheng and Suzan Song, gathered more than 250 psychiatrist volunteers, initially, to man the physician support line in shifts.
Masood is the founder of the platform.
The platform was launched March 30, National Doctors Day, with one volunteer per shift available to counsel those who asked, from 5 a.m – 9 p.m. (PDT) seven days a week. Cotton quickly realized they would need two volunteers per shift to answer calls, as well as a backup, as they had about 25 to 30 calls the first day and that number has steadily climbed each day since.
Cotton said a legal team is also working with the team, partly to make sure it’s OK for callers to reach across state lines.
She said the doxy.me is like psychological first aid for physicians whose mental health has been affected by COVID-19.
Physicians enter a “waiting room,” then are connected to speak with a volunteer psychiatrist through text messaging or a video chat.
Cheng, one of the founding members of the group, began a similar physician support line during the pandemic in Wuhan, China.
Cotton said all physicians who are struggling with anxiety, guilt or any other mental health concern are encouraged to contact the support line.
She said the platform came about after a few physicians formed a Facebook chat group to discuss issues they were having in working with coronavirus patients.
Cotton said she has a psychiatrist friend in New York City who is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped her realize that many doctors are struggling with the outbreak and its effects. She said a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) is adding to the fears.
“Recognizing the stress and the trauma that this is causing for those physicians, there was a very large hole where this needed to be filled,” Cotton said.
Program seeks additional volunteers
She said that even after the pandemic wanes, there will be post-traumatic stress disorder among the physicians treating patients.
“There may be a mental health crisis that follows when this pandemic finally slows down,” she said.
Cotton said insomnia is a common theme among health professionals who have contacted the support group.
Insomnia specialists have been brought on board to help deal with those issues.
“We have a lot of callers who are having nightmares and who have very disregulated sleep,” she said. “That’s been a major theme.”
She said a specialist in family dynamics has also been been a good resource, since many people are quarantined with their families for extended periods.
Cotton said as of Friday there are about 400 volunteers working on the physician support platform.
She said no personal information is gathered from the callers, but an address is needed, in case an emergency arises during a call.
Cotton said most callers so far are from the East Coast and from Washington state.
To volunteer, email – email@example.com.
Jim Krajewski covers high school and youth sports for the Reno Gazette Journal. Follow him on Twitter @RGJPreps. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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