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Scientists and artists collide to help health care workers cope with COVID-19

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Performance art can help medical professionals grapple with the coronavirus, researchers say.

In a report published by The Lancet, authors liken COVID-19 to tales of ancient Greek tragedies. These stories are fraught with betrayal, anger and fear — feelings not unlike what front-line workers are feeling today. 

The program is called “Theater of War for Frontline Medical Providers” and it is a product of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and Johns Hopkins Program in Arts, Humanities and Health. It is designed to open a dialogue among health care workers to discuss the difficulties they have — and will continue to experience — during the outbreak. 

“We have found that presenting scenes from ancient tragedies about complex, ethical situations for frontline medical providers generates an open, non-threatening space in which health personnel can begin to process, interrogate, share and bear witness to experiences of loss, betrayal, grief and other forms of moral suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic,” authors wrote in a news release.

Medical workers across the U.S. are struggling with mental health issues and are 30% more likely to experience clinical depression than non-medical workers, according to a recent study. Authors say coping interventions are critical. 

“What we learned suggests anyone who identifies as a healthcare professional – whether it’s a physician or a support worker in a hospital – is at risk for mental health problems that could be devastating if left untreated,” said study author of the paper, Mental health challenges of U.S. healthcare professionals during COVID-19, Shevaun Neuper, Ph.D., in a statement.

The findings are alarming, Neupar said, and additional work is needed to understand the depth and complexity of the mental health issues these people are facing. Strategies must be implemented to help them cope, she urged.

“The medium of theater invites participants to step back and interrogate the roles they are playing,” founders of Theater of War for Frontline Medical Workers say. “[They can] process and channel their emotions and experience solidarity of collective purpose and constructive action.”

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over five years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets.