This group of health care professionals has experienced the burdens associated with increased patient demands, the potential for exposure, and shifting role expectations.
Although people across the world are feeling the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers are carrying a particular psychological burden,1 which was first noted among health care workers, such as nurses, in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.
These health care workers were identified as having more severe measurements of mental health symptoms than others in the study conducted by Lai and colleagues.1,2
Depression, anxiety, and insomnia were identified as the prevalent mental health issues among those who are suffering.1,2 Although pharmacists are not always identified as part of the frontline team in some hospital settings where the majority of coronavirus cases are observed, this group of health care professionals has also experienced the burdens associated with increased patient demands, the potential for exposure, and shifting role expectations. Pharmacists are also on the frontlines in terms of the drug delivery system in the United States.3
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, pharmacists are being called upon to direct patients to reliable sources about the coronavirus, educate them about infection prevention basics, and offer strategies for symptom management for those with minor viral illnesses.4 This has led to an increased demand on pharmacists as patients look to these professionals for guidance and insight. It is important for frontline pharmacists to be aware of the expansion of their roles and the expectation to serve a larger number of people while understanding that this can place undue burden or stress on them if effective strategies are not developed to manage the growing numbers of patients. An organized process for addressing the questions of all those who have concerns and questions about the coronavirus should be implemented.
As the number of cases of coronavirus continue to grow, more and more questions will be presented to pharmacists by people who may not have immediate access to physicians or other health care professionals.5 During these challenging times, pharmacists should engage in a continuous self-assessment of their mental health status and identify any signs of anxiety, depression, or stress that may be related to addressing this crisis. For example, pharmacist who are working longer hours should make a conscious effort to take breaks when possible to recharge and refresh.
The ability to recognize, acknowledge, and act on mental distress during the coronavirus pandemic can serve as a key to decreasing the impact. Additionally, pharmacists may face burnout during the pandemic, because of fear of exposure to the disease, longer hours, and in some cases insufficient resources.6 The feeling of burnout can be related to emotional exhaustion and is linked to cardiovascular issues and a weaker immune system.7 To address this issue, some pharmacies are shifting to digital or virtual or digital solutions to insurance claims for coronavirus testing and refills. Also, pharmacists should ask for help if they are feeling burdened or overwhelmed, and this should be viewed as a sign of strength rather than weakness.6 Pharmacists may also find it helpful right now to refocus or reframe burdensome tasks as opportunities for improvement of a knowledge base or skill.
Pharmacists are major contributors to health care delivery during this pandemic, but to continue to serve patients effectively, they must make sure that they are constantly evaluating their own mental health status for signs of psychological burden.
Abimbola Farinde, PharmD, is a pharmacist at Cornerstone Hospital in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professionals in Phoenix, Arizona.