Thrive by IU Health

May 16, 2022

Mental health is a team effort

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Mental health is a team effort

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” ~Mister Rogers

When a person goes into a medical profession—doctor, nurse, lab technician, pharmacist, physician assistant, etc.—they are signing up for a career of helping others.

And over the past few years, these individuals have been spending more of their time dealing more with a darker side of healthcare. Increased patient numbers, deaths and uncertainty have followed many in this profession and given rise to stress unlike many have felt before in their careers.

One report shows increased numbers of post-traumatic stress in medical professionals, but what does that really mean for those in the healthcare field?

“We’ve been very aware of PTS (post-traumatic stress) in the medical population and first responders since before the pandemic hit,” says IU Health Bloomington psychiatrist and Medical Director of Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center (ATRC) Camila Arnaudo, MD.

People who have PTS experience intense, intrusive thoughts related to a past traumatic incident that they either witnessed or experienced. They can have flashbacks, nightmares, strong negative reactions to things that most individuals view as ordinary such as a loud noise or a sudden movement, and more.

The main, consistent variable is that this trauma never really leaves the person. It’s always there in the back of their mind.

PTS can vary quite a bit from person to person, so speaking to your healthcare provider is important for any type of diagnosis in this area.

“I think what is so important about seeing the multitude of PTS-specific traits is it gives you a sense of how many dimensions in a person's life are altered by this diagnosis. With PTS, the trauma is always in the back of your mind, in your subconscious and slightly hidden,” says Arnaudo.

The interesting thing with PTS is that the responses the body is going through are actually the brain trying to protect you from the trauma. The brain is trying to hide the trauma, but that makes it worse since you may not know what is upsetting you and you’re not actually putting it in the past.

“In some ways, with COVID, we’re seeing more people experiencing acute stress from dealing with all the unknowns of the pandemic and not true PTS,” says Arnaudo.

She explained that acute stress doesn’t always progress into PTS, but getting help is a major component of healing in either case.

“In our hospital clinic, we take care of a fair number of nurses and other hospital employees. But I think healthcare workers tend to underutilize behavioral health services because there is still a lot of stigma. And many individuals just want to deal with it on their own,” says Arnaudo.

These stigmas are being fought increasingly by the younger generations, and they are being supported by multiple athletes speaking up to talk about their own mental health issues. Arnaudo finds hope in these younger generations who are bringing light to the importance of mental health.

“I feel like this younger generation is much more willing to discuss mental health as a legitimate illness. In the past, people could talk about a broken leg or cancer or something, but mental health was not discussed. And I definitely think the younger age groups are much more comfortable bringing that up compared to older generations who may be more hesitant,” says Arnaudo.

While the limited number of mental health resources available for much of the nation is a concern with the increased number of individuals seeking this type of healthcare, there are two things that everyone can do to help their mental health: talk to your primary care provider and find a support system.

Arnaudo describes primary care providers as the quarterback of your team and the touch point to start this conversation and potentially start some helpful medicines.

“The biggest thing is, don't worry alone,” she encourages. “When people are in isolation, that’s when it can get very out of control.”

Reaching out to others is a major step in getting better when you have acute stress or PTS. Arnaudo says this support can come from friends, family, someone you trust, a sports team, the church family, your healthcare team, or anyone you trust. Telling someone else what you’re going through can be hard, but it’s important for you in the long-term.

Find information about the IU Health Behavioral Health team.

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