Students create mental-health website for medical professionals battling COVID-19

Health care professionals worldwide are facing a second crisis, the consequences of which we're only beginning to understand.

Students create mental-health website for medical professionals battling COVID-19

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 30: A medical worker from Lenox Hill Hospital wipes a tear while people show gratitude as part of the nightly #ClapBecauseWeCare during the coronavirus pandemic on April 30, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 230,000 lives with infections over 3.2 million people.

(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
  • The website was created by two undergraduates at Tuft University.
  • It offers a curated list of free and paid mental-health resources, as well as links to virtual therapy from mental-health professionals.
  • Studies suggest that health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

It's been four months since the U.S. reported its first case of Covid-19. For many health care workers on the front lines of the virus, that time has been a blur of long hours, triage decisions, and a uniquely lonely type of suffering caused by a pandemic that demands social distance. Some medical experts warn that the wavering mental health of these workers is a crisis unto itself.

That's why two undergraduates at Tuft University created Medical Mental Health, a website that connects health care workers with mental health resources.

"After scouring the web for a site that not only presented mental health resources in an organized manner but also was designed for those working in healthcare, we found nothing," wrote the website creators Megha Tandon and Krishan Guzzo, both of whom are pursuing degrees related to health care.

"In light of the current COVID-19 crisis, we found it essential that such a resource be available, which led to the creation of this site. Though COVID might have been the catalyst that sparked this project, we plan to maintain it indefinitely."

A curated list of online mental-health resources.

NYC Well

The website offers a curated list of online mental-health resources, including meditation apps, games that aim to alleviate depression, and sleep-aid programs. It also links to virtual therapy options with professional mental-health specialists. The overall goal, Tandon and Guzzo write, is to "ensure that your minds stay clear and your hearts stay happy."

Covid-19 and the mental toll on health care workers

Shortly after the outbreak began, health care workers started showing signs of distress. A study published in March found that physicians and nurses battling Covid-19 in China reported high rates of depression, anxiety and insomnia — partly due to lack of personal protection equipment. In Italy, another study found that about half of frontline health care workers developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the U.S., about half of all Americans say the pandemic is hurting their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The numbers are almost surely higher among health care workers. For example, research has found that health care professionals who worked in high-risk locations during the SARS epidemic were relatively likely to suffer post-traumatic stress symptoms, and other research suggests that medical professionals who have to undergo quarantine can experience similar symptoms even years later.

It's still unclear how the pandemic will affect American health care workers. But the recent suicides of an emergency room doctor and an emergency medical technician in New York City highlight what could become a long-term mental health problem for thousands of medical professionals.

After all, as psychiatrist Wendy Drean notes in an article for Stat News, burnout was already rampant among clinicians even before the pandemic. Longer hours and heightened stress during the pandemic are surely aggravating the problem.

But it's not just long hours and stressful work conditions that are harming mental health: there's also moral injury. Moral injury is a term created by psychologists to describe how soldiers feel about their actions during war, and it occurs when a soldier feels he has perpetrated, failed to prevent, or witnessed "acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations." In the health care setting, a form of moral injury can occur when medical professionals are unable to provide high-quality care to patients, Dean and Simon G. Talbot, M.D., a reconstructive plastic surgeon, wrote in a 2018 piece for Stat News.

"Most physicians enter medicine following a calling rather than a career path. They go into the field with a desire to help people," write Dean and Talbot, adding: "Failing to consistently meet patients' needs has a profound impact on physician wellbeing — this is the crux of consequent moral injury."

Whether it's moral injury, burnout or the virus itself, it may take a while before health care workers can really begin to heal, as Roy Perlis, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Science Magazine. Real healing takes time, he said.

"Docs are not always very good at asking for help," Perlis says. "We want them to ask."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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