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'COVID has just been a whole new level of physical and mental exhaustion': UCHealth program helps fight burnout in healthcare workers

The Resilience Program at UCHealth allows their frontline workers to access mental health resources at any time.

COLORADO, USA — A year into fighting the pandemic, healthcare workers continue to deal with the mental and emotional toll that comes with it. 

"I think right now we’re kind of at a point of just acceptance," said Elise Phelan, a surgical unit charge nurse with UCHealth. "You gotta take care of yourself in this job. It’s so important because it’s so easy to lose yourself in taking care of other people."

After suffering from burnout from a job several years ago, Phelan said it inspired her to help others in the healthcare industry. 

"I wanted to make sure that nobody else got to the point where I was," said Phelan. 

Phelan started the Resilience Program at UCHealth as a mental health resource for her colleagues. It began once a month with in-person meetings. Phelan would bring in massage therapists, movement therapists, yoga instructors, nutritionists and sometimes therapy puppies. 

After the pandemic, in-person meetings shifted to a completely virtual experience. Phelan created a website for the program, which is accessible to healthcare workers at UCHealth. This allows frontline workers to access resources any time, anywhere. 

Phelan said healthcare workers are usually reluctant about seeking mental health advice. "I think what’s hard in our profession is that we are meant to be the strong, and we are meant to be the caregivers."

While hospitals aren't as overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients the way they were during the spring and fall surges, Phelan said the pandemic still takes an emotional toll on frontline caregivers. 

"There’s a good potential that we might see a lot of nurses leaving the workforce," said Phelan. "It’s gonna take a toll on us; we know that. So I think this is important to talk about." 

Phelan shared a few signs to look out for when it comes to burnout. 

Unable to relax when off work 

Phelan: I think a lot of new nurses struggle with that where they think about everything they could've done better. It's really hard to let that go and leave work at work.

Trouble with sleep 

Phelan: Make sure you're taking care of  your body, and if you're not able to sleep, admit and say, 'hey, I need some help making sure that I can sleep at night and taking care of myself as well.' 

Distancing oneself from personal relationships 

Phelan: So not having or fostering those relationships with people outside of work.

Additionally here are suicide and mental health resources for Colorado:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support for those in crisis 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. 

Colorado Crisis Services 

There are four ways to get confidential and immediate help: by phone at 1-844-493-8255, over text message (text the word “TALK” to 38255), via online chat service, or at walk-in centers throughout metro Denver, northern, the southeast region and the western slope. Many of these services are available 24/7. 

Trained counselors are available to help with relationship problems, depression, bullying, stress, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, family crisis and more. 

Mental Health Colorado 

This advocacy organization hosts a variety of online mental health screenings in both English and Spanish, a mental health toolkit for schools, a page dedicated to the latest mental health research, as well as a variety of events throughout the year. 

Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health 

Using this link, you can find the community mental health center nearest to you. All of the centers accept Medicaid and most have sliding payment options for those who do not have insurance. 

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