Social employee recognized with PTSD discusses the significance of psychological well being within the office

HARRISONBURG, Virginia (WHSV) – Abigail Fernald was diagnosed with PTSD after working on the COVID unit at a hospital for almost a year.

“It took me until mid-February to know that my symptoms were enough that I had somehow reached my limits,” said Fernald.

Abigail started her job as a social worker in March, just two weeks before the COVID outbreak. She explained that there was a general feeling of fear and that no one knew what to expect. Those feelings only intensified as the cases continued to rise over the Christmas period.

“You have seen employees talk more about nightmares, crying fits, burned out and exhaustion,” said Fernald.

After the vacation wave, these feelings set in and let Fernald realize the trauma she had experienced while working in the COVID unit.

“I actually went to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts and was unemployed for two weeks,” said Fernald.

She eventually decided that it would be best to quit her job in April 2021.

And she was not alone; many healthcare workers are grappling with similar struggles.

“When you work in this environment and the need for care is so high, it’s hard to find care yourself,” said Helen Stichel, a board member of Central Shenandoah’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

NAMI works to provide education, advocacy and support to people struggling with mental health.

“It offers space. I mean, I think that’s one of the key elements when people are busy and overwhelmed and there is no time for it. I don’t have time to give space to my own mental health, ”added Stichel.

This space and support are things Fernald says would have been helpful in her previous workplace.

“More mental health support for employees will be beneficial, especially given the recent surge in cases, possibly from peer support groups, and an open discussion about people who are struggling,” said Fernald.

Mental health was not a topic that was openly discussed among staff, but talking about it can help.

“This is so important, especially as a health care worker in the pandemic, because if you cannot take care of your mental health yourself, you cannot offer patients high-quality care,” said Stichel.

When you’re feeling anxious, sad, or having trouble sleeping or eating, Fernald says it’s important to say something.

“Because it’s normal and you’re not alone and it’s okay to get help,” she said.

NAMI has several resources available to anyone who has added stress or pressure in their life.

“Suppose you are a family member of a caregiver and you are concerned about their welfare and want to know how you can support them. There are NAMI self-help groups that are specially geared from family to family, ”said Stichel.

Here are some resources that are available if you or someone you know needs assistance:

National suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Valley COD Emergency Services: (540) 885-0866

NAMI Virginia

Mental Health America

You can also visit the NAMI Central Shenandoah Facebook page or email [email protected]

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