Professional practice guidelines: Supporting the mental health of frontline healthcare workers

Caitlyn Herrick, Lachlan James, Brian Lee and Assoc. Prof Jade Sheen, Deakin University, Australia, March 2023

These professional practice guidelines aim to provide evidence-based recommendations for mental health practitioners in the delivery of therapeutic services to frontline healthcare workers (FHW) given their roles during and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. The guidelines were developed through a review of the literature, longitudinal research conducted by the team with frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and consultation with experts in the field. The guidelines are organised into four key areas:

  1. background information
  2. assessment considerations
  3. management considerations; and
  4. additional considerations of FHW with families.

Key recommendations include being aware of and considering higher risk groups, the context of COVID-19 outbreaks, adjusting the threshold for symptoms and normative behaviours within healthcare, and using validated tools adapted for healthcare workers where available. As well as taking into account and being mindful of trauma-related symptoms, burnout and work-related stressors, professional identity, moral injury, stigma and discrimination, social support, personal life impacts, self-care and self-compassion, and potential work-related barriers to treatment seeking both when conducting a thorough assessment and planning evidence-based interventions tailored to FHW unique circumstances.

Additionally, the guidelines provide considerations for working with FHW with families, such as protective and risk factors, including cohesive and supportive family processes, and social and familial relationship stress.

These guidelines intend to be a supplementary resource for mental health practitioners to improve the quality of care provided to FHW and should be used alongside existing treatment guidelines. They are not intended to replace clinical judgment or the need for ongoing professional development and supervision.

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