Support Groups and Individual Mental Health Care via Video Conferencing for Frontline Clinicians During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Elsevier, Psychosomatics, Available online 23 June 2020, in press
Authors: 
Ramaswamy Viswanathan, Michael F. Myers, Ayman H. Fanous

Background

The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has put an enormous stress on the mental health of frontline health care workers.

Objective

Psychiatry departments in medical centers need to develop support systems to help our colleagues cope with this stress.

Methods

We developed recurring peer support groups via videoconferencing and telephone for physicians, resident physicians, and nursing staff, focusing on issues and emotions related to their frontline clinical work with COVID patients in our medical center which was designated as a COVID-only hospital by the state. These groups are led by attending psychiatrists and psychiatry residents. In addition, we also deployed a system of telehealth individual counseling by attending psychiatrists.

Results

Anxiety was high in the beginning of our weekly groups, dealing with fear of contracting COVID or spreading COVID to family members and the stress of social distancing. Later, the focus was also on the impairment of the traditional clinician-patient relationship by the characteristics of this disease and the associated moral challenges and trauma. Clinicians were helped to cope with these issues through group processes such as ventilation of feelings, peer support, consensual validation, peer-learning, and interventions by group facilitators. People with severe anxiety or desiring confidentiality were helped through individual interventions.

Conclusions

Our experience suggests that this method of offering telehealth peer support groups and individual counseling is a useful model for other centers to adapt to emotionally support frontline clinical workers in this ongoing worldwide crisis.