Why mental health is important for health workers
Health workers at the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic are critical in the fight against the virus.
Measures like social distancing and isolation are helping to slow its spread. But health workers still face extreme pressure from the increased demand on the health care system.
Long and irregular hours and heavy workloads can increase stress and cause mental health issues, including burnout. Managers and supervisors should be sensitive to the issues that might affect their employees.
Looking after yourself, your mental health and wellbeing is critical in these tough times.
Get urgent help
If you need help right now, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia.
In an emergency, call 000.
How health workers might be feeling
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting significant psychological pressure on health workers.
Unprecedented demand on their time and skills can make it hard to take time off.
Even when taking all precautions, there is a constant worry about being exposed to the virus, and unknowingly spreading it to patients and family. Many health workers have to avoid contact with vulnerable family members, causing further social isolation.
Intense media scrutiny and a lack of understanding from the community, including hostility at times, adds to the stress.
Feeling under pressure is normal in the current situation. But these compounding pressures can lead to more serious anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout.
Looking after your mental health and psychosocial wellbeing is important to help you cope in the longer term. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
Keeping mentally healthy
Look after your health
Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies, such as use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical wellbeing.
Be kind to yourself, and take breaks during your shifts, even if it is just a few minutes to catch your breath. Managers and supervisors should ensure staff take regular breaks to reduce stress.
Between shifts, get as much rest as you can, and try to take time for yourself to do things you enjoy. Managers and supervisors should make sure staff have enough time between shifts to rest, sleep and prepare for the next day.
Keep in regular contact with family and friends, even if you are isolating, through:
- video chats
- phone calls
- online groups
Talk about your shared experiences with your colleagues or manager — they are going through the same thing and can offer valuable support.
Managers and supervisors should encourage staff to express any concerns about their mental health, as it might indicate broader issues across their workforce.
It’s important to share your feelings with your family, friends, and colleagues. But if you are feeling anxious or depressed for an extended period, see a health professional.
As a manager or supervisor, if a staff member tells you about the mental health challenges they are experiencing, help them find support, including at Head to Health.
It is important to respect the privacy of staff who are dealing with complex personal and mental health issues and might not wish to discuss these at work.
Find a full list of mental health support contacts.
To stay up to date on COVID-19:
- monitor the COVID-19 current situation and case numbers
- browse our COVID-19 news and media
- subscribe to our mental health newsletter
- view these video and radio spots
You can also join our WhatsApp channel or use our COVID-19 app.
A 30-minute online module – COVID-19 infection control training – is available for care workers across all health care settings.
This training is hosted on an external site, provided by our COVID-19 training partner Aspen Medical.
Publications and fact sheets
- Comcare – Looking after your mental health
- Beyond Blue – Protecting your mental health and wellbeing as a healthcare worker and their Mental Wellbeing Support Service
- Australian Psychological Society – Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety
- Headspace – How to cope with stress related to coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Black Dog Institute – TEN: The Essential Network for health professionals and Coronavirus anxiety resources
- Safe Work Australia – Information on COVID-19 and work health and safety
Check the Head to Health website for:
- links information, advice, and free or low-cost phone and online mental health supports and services
- resources and services (including COVID specific) that can help if you’re experiencing mental health concerns or trying to support someone else
More resources for health care workers are available at our coronavirus (COVID-19) resources collection.
Read about Australia’s National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan. It responds to the mental health and wellbeing needs of all Australians during the response and in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This plan has been developed under the co-leadership of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Government and has been informed by all jurisdictions.
Mental health for patients and carers
For mental health information for patients and carers, see our page about looking after your mental health.
More resources for the general public are available at our coronavirus (COVID-19) resources collection.