Clinicians wade into the breach of COVID-19 without sufficient protection, even as their pay is cut, their protests gagged, their employment threatened, and as they watch their colleagues and friends fall ill.
We mustn’t lose sight of how moral injury is in the fabric of this pandemic.
“It’s going to take weeks or months before people are really able to take a breath and start thinking about all they’ve seen, all they’ve experienced and to start processing it,” Dr. Wendy Dean says. “I firmly believe that the mental health surge is going to be significantly delayed from the viral surge.”
In this piece for the Richmond Academy of Medicine, Dr. Wendy Dean warns of a looming mental health crisis for the physicians on the front lines of COVID-19. Entitled COVID curve 1.5: a brewing crisis of clinician mental health, Dr. Dean addresses hero-worship and the stigma facing physicians for seeking support.
Dr. Wendy Dean co-authored this peer-reviewed paper with Dr. Breanne Jacobs and Dr. Rita Manfredi.
Medicine is mourning 3 of our own during the past few weeks, cut down not by the virus, as too many others were, but by their own hands in the midst of the crisis. They signal death by suicide and the arrival of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Curve 1.5—the surge of trauma, grief, and moral injury swelling during the pandemic response.
Dr. Wendy Dean was invited to testify at the New York City June 16, 2020 City Council hearing. During this testimony, she shared that a “culture of self-sacrifice” stops medical staff from seeking help for mental-health issues in the first place.
“There’s a habit of many in health-care to minimize their own needs in the face of greater suffering by patients and families,” Dr. Dean said.
Other testimonies included physicians from Bellevue Hospital and others. A summary article from The Chief Leader can be found below, or a full video of the City Council meeting via the NYC City Counsel website also linked below.
While other corners of the health-care world struggled to care for patients, protect staff, and find scarce equipment, for-profit health insurance companies did just fine. Drs. Wendy Dean and Simon G. Talbot co-authored this article with Dr. Samuel Shem.
Crises often highlight both the best and the worst of humanity. Coronavirus is no exception. It has brought out the best in America’s health-care workforce. It also has deeply wounded the healthcare workers through moral injuries.
For many of the nation’s physicians, doctoring has become an almost unrecognizable activity, and it started long before the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, the doctors have no idea how to take care of themselves. Dr. Wendy Dean’s personal and professional stories are highlighted in this piece by Psychology Today’s Hara Marano.
Dr. Wendy Dean was the featured mental health expert on MSNBC’s Live with Joshua Johnson on May 2, 2020. She first defines moral injury and then goes on to discuss the impossibly difficult decisions and conditions clinicians are working under during the coronavirus pandemic. She goes on to caution about calling healthcare workers heroes, because there will come a time when those heroes need to be human and process the trauma they have undergone during this time.