L. Casey Chosewood, MD MPH, NIOSH; Lore Jackson Lee, MPH, NIOSH; Paul Schulte, PhD, NIOSH; Sydney Webb, PhD, NIOSH; Summer Slaughter, MPH, NIOSH; Christy Spring, MA, NIOSH
As part of the American Rescue Plan, CDC/NIOSH received funding to deliver a national education and awareness campaign for the nation’s health employers and nearly 20 million workers in the healthcare sector, as well as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and public health workers. The goal of this initiative is to protect and improve the mental health and emotional well-being of the nation’s health workers through prevention, awareness, and intervention.
This presentation will describe the five main objectives of this new initiative, which are to: 1) Spotlight the personal, social, and economic burden of poor mental health outcomes; 2) Develop a repository of best practices, resources, and interventions; 3) Inspire, amplify, and support partnership efforts; 4) Improve data, screening tools, trainings, resources, and policies for sustainable change; and 5) Conduct a national, multi-dimensional social marketing campaign.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers have faced unprecedented challenges as part of their work, including very difficult working conditions, long hours of work, high levels of exposure to human suffering and death, and increased risks for personal exposure and harm. The campaign seeks to prevent and address a range of mental health outcomes related to these challenges, including the risks for work-related stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, fatigue, substance use disorders, and suicidal behavior.
The effort also seeks to raise awareness, lower barriers for seeking and accessing care, and reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health support and resources. The projects and products included in this effort will specifically be designed to target the special and unique needs of health workers today.
Work conditions have been perennially challenging in the health care sector long before the pandemic. The work often involves intense physical and emotional labor in a complex social environment with unique pressures arising from the web of relationships among the patient or client, family members, the employing/care-providing institution, and the health care workers themselves. These workers may experience unstable and unpredictable work lives, often report financial strain, and routinely face hazardous conditions at work. Many lower-paid workers have difficulty accessing health care services, including workers? compensation, and may face an overall lack of dignity and civility on the job, while still facing demanding working conditions from a variety of occupational safety and health risks, all leading to poorer health outcomes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced additional elements of fatigue, strain, stress, loss, and grief for health care workers. Early in the pandemic health care workers experienced shortages in critical personal protective equipment, increasing anxiety, and the risk of personal harm. Some health care workers report symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder related to the pandemic, as well as residual symptoms due to personal infection with COVID-19.
Moreover, many health care workers often place the well-being of their patients ahead of their own health and safety. This dedication to their work may delay or prevent them from seeking help or resources for their own health and well-being challenges. The strong and historical stigma related to seeking care for mental health concerns or substance misuse issues, even among health care providers themselves, also remains a significant barrier to intervention. NIOSH will consider these characteristics and nuances carefully within the context of the campaign. The campaign will also address the racial diversity, gender, and other unique characteristics of the health workforce.
All parts of this initiative will focus on primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention and proven interventions related to raising awareness of mental health issues and suicide risk by both health workers and their employers, lowering barriers to accessing care (including support from employers), workplace and community supports, and reducing the stigma of seeking and receiving care.
In addition to describing the overall strategy of the initiative, the presentation will also provide updates on progress in research, communication, and partnership efforts.