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Mental Health Response — COVID-19 Outreach Promoting Support to Healthcare Workers

From the The Arizona Council of Human Service Providers; Arizona Psychiatric Society; and Arizona Psychological Association

Following the sharp rise in COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations throughout our state, we are writing you to offer our support and extend mental health resources during this crisis. Health care providers are under unbelievable stress during this time — working long hours and relentless shifts while balancing personal safety with the health of patients. For many, COVID-19 brings a unique set of stressors: powerlessness to a disease course with no curative treatment, the isolation of patients from their family support and an increasing concern of availability of resources. For others, COVID-19 has disrupted the routine care of their patients and worsened access to care or led to preventable adverse health outcomes.

We would encourage all providers to take their own pulse, as well as that of their colleagues, for the coming weeks and months. The physician suicide rate is approximately double that of the general population, and if rates of burnout and depression rise among physicians following the pandemic, we fear a corresponding rise in physician suicides.

Following the death by suicide of emergency medicine physician Dr. Lorna Breen in April, the reluctance of physicians to seek mental health treatment was in the spotlight. Physicians cite concerns of confidentiality, fear of discrimination in licensing and lack of time as significant barriers to receiving mental health support.

Out of stressors do come solutions and following examples of other nationwide efforts for a physician support system, the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) has established a free, confidential peer-to-peer network which has been supported and shared by the Arizona Medical Board. Trained physicians are available as supports through The Virtual Doctors’ Lounge. It is available to all licensed physicians, regardless of ArMA membership or affiliation. Note the availability of a similar program for Arizona nurses, The Wellbeing Initiative, as well as the more broadly available crisis support initiative, Resilient Arizona, which is offered to all Arizonans.

Last, the Arizona Psychiatric Society continues to work with the Arizona Medical Board in an effort to design a “Frequently Asked Questions” section regarding what is a reportable mental health issue for licensing or renewal as this is a commonly expressed concern. We emphasize that the peer-to-peer network above, The Virtual Doctors’ Lounge, is not a resource which one would constitute a reportable encounter, and even routine psychiatric care (i.e., care for depression, anxiety) does not typically require reporting.

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