May 21, 2020

Ryan Kelley

During the COVID-19 pandemic, EMS workers have joined healthcare professionals in caring for patients who have potentially contracted the virus. While large-scale incidents such as train derailments are very familiar territory, the pandemic is significantly different because it’s an ongoing emergency. Due to its continuing nature, the development of mental health conditions are very possible.

AAC Medical Editor Ryan Kelley, NREMT, penned an op-ed for EMS1 during National EMS Week on preventive mental health precautions for EMS workers that may be needed as the country, and the world, settle in to a new normal.

Although slightly different, studies have shown that the SARS outbreak in 2003 led to the development of psychological effects among frontline workers, such as post-traumatic stress (PTS), anxiety and depression. According to one study in Toronto, a high degree of distress was experienced by 29-35% of healthcare workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic can likely produce the same psychological effects and lead to maladaptive means of coping, such as alcohol and/or illicit substances.

Based on what was previously seen in the 2003 outbreak, Kelley lists particular risk factors that may increase vulnerability to PTSD or depressive symptoms:

  • Being quarantined in isolation
  • Being stigmatized because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or high-risk exposure to patients
  • Being diagnosed with and recovering from COVID-19
  • Experiencing pre-COVID-19 trauma

To read the rest of the piece for more information on preemptive coping mechanisms, visit EMS1.