We had our medical staff meeting on Friday, which was the first time we had all convened since the COVID-19 epidemic was announced in Seattle-King County.
I shared with the team the following framework, which is from a paper about demoralization.[1. It is common for other medical specialties to request a psychiatric consult for a patient who seems depressed. Consultation psychiatrists often learn that it is demoralization, not depression, that results in consult requests. (Though demoralization and depression share features, most psychiatrists agree that they are distinct conditions. These distinctions are discussed further in the paper.)]
The authors note that:
Demoralization refers to the “various degrees of helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, and subjective incompetence” that people feel when sensing that they are failing their own or others’ expectations for coping with life’s adversities. Rather than coping, they struggle to survive.
and later comment that “[a]cknowledging suffering and restoring dignity are potent in strengthening a patient’s resilience to stress.”
This is the valuable table from the paper:
During this extraordinary time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this framework may help you, whether you work in medicine or not. Sometimes the act of putting words to our emotions can alleviate our discomfort and help us feel more empowered.
We may all feel overwhelmed with the emotions and experiences on the left side of the table. Many, if not all, of us during the past few weeks have felt confused, helpless, and resentful. We have felt lonely and isolated, though we may recognize that we’re lonely and isolated all together. Sometimes fear gets the best of us and we wonder if anything we do matters. Vulnerability is often an uncomfortable position.
Remember that there are things we can all do to nudge us over to the right side of the table. Thanking others helps us reconnects us with people. Looking for the helpers can inspire us and give us hope. Taking a breath (or two or three) and slowing down helps us pursue clarity so we can find the signal in the midst of all the noise. The choices we make in each moment can help us recognize and cultivate our own courage and resilience. How we choose to react to what’s happening around us can shape our purpose. Do we react in anger or kindness? Do we have faith that we will do the best that we can in face of uncertainty, or do we assume the worst in others and ourselves?
To those of you who work in emergency departments and hospitals, regardless of your role, we thank you for your courage and efforts. We in outpatient settings are doing our best to keep people healthy and out of EDs. We all look forward to the time when this will be just a memory.