Free therapy for healthcare workers: Healing resources for mental health support

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti
Updated January 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While caring for patients and helping others heal can be very fulfilling, working in healthcare can also bring intense pressures and stressors. It can be a tough job that involves sacrifice and dedication, as healthcare workers often put their patients' needs before their own. At times, healthcare workers may feel overwhelmed, alone, or isolated and may not know where to turn for support. 

If you're a physician, nurse, or other healthcare worker, you may be all too familiar with the toll your work can take on your emotional, physical, and mental health. But you don't have to cope with these challenges on your own. Various peer support platforms and crisis lines are available, as well as several organizations that offer free or low-cost therapy for healthcare workers. 

Taking care of your mental health is not only important for your own well-being, but it can also allow you to provide better care for your patients. Read on to learn more about the resources you can use to manage your mental health and when you might consider using them.

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Healthcare workers can face unique mental health challenges

Mental health challenges of healthcare workers

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers faced stressful work conditions and a high risk of mental health challenges. For instance, the CDC notes that 79% of physicians reported burnout starting before the pandemic. Healthcare workers often have irregular shifts, long hours, emotionally and physically demanding work, and exposure to human pain, among other challenging work conditions. 

On top of these existing pressures, the pandemic has made healthcare workers' jobs even more challenging, with increased rates of burnout, stress, trauma, and other mental health challenges

Depression has been a major concern among healthcare workers. Frequent exposure to a high-stress work environment may lead to persistent feelings of hopelessness or loss of interest in daily activities. In a survey of over 10,000 healthcare workers, around 30% were reported to experience depression

Stress and other mental health obstacles may also lead to burnout. If you're burned out, you might feel emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, which can make it very hard to stay motivated and care for your patients. If you're feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious, or if you're living with other mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may want to seek mental health treatment.  

Healthcare workers face a high risk of mental health challenges due to the high-stress nature of their work. But numerous resources offer free therapy and support, which can help them manage their mental health and allow them to continue providing the best care for their patients.

Types of therapy and support

There are several types of services that can help support mental health for healthcare workers, including free therapy options. The following are some of the different kinds of help and support to consider.

  • Counseling and therapy: Counseling and therapy services are usually led by licensed mental health experts. Different types of therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and exposure therapy, can help healthcare workers based on their specific needs.
  • Peer support: Peer support groups provide healthcare professionals an opportunity to connect with colleagues who may be going through similar challenges. You can connect with peers to discuss experiences, discuss ways to manage difficult situations, and receive emotional support.
  • Crisis aid: Sometimes, healthcare workers might face a crisis and need immediate help. Crisis support services, like hotlines or text lines, are available to provide quick assistance during tough times. These services are staffed by trained professionals who can offer guidance and support when it's needed most.

Many hospitals and medical facilities may also have in-person services to help provide support for their staff. In addition, online resources and services can connect healthcare workers with virtual support as needed. We'll explore these options in further detail below. 

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Available mental health resources

Healthcare workers have connections to a variety of mental health resources, some of which are free. The following organizations provide therapy and emotional support to help healthcare professionals handle the stress of their everyday jobs. 

Emotional PPE project

The Emotional PPE Project is a nonprofit group that helps healthcare workers find mental health support by providing a list of volunteer mental health practitioners who offer therapy sessions. They help healthcare workers connect with experienced therapists at no cost and without the need for insurance.  

Therapy aid coalition

The Therapy Aid Coalition is another organization that offers free or low-cost mental health services to healthcare professionals and first responders. Through its network of licensed therapists, the organization connects U.S. healthcare workers and first responders with mental health support in the form of short-term therapy sessions. 

The physician support line

The physician support line is a free, national support line that connects U.S. physicians and medical students to volunteer psychiatrists who provide peer support for a range of issues, not just crises. The support line can be reached at 1-888-409-0141. No appointment is necessary, and the line is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. ET.

PeerRxMed

PeerRxMed is a free online platform that offers peer support and training for healthcare workers. It aims to provide a safe space for healthcare workers to connect with others who understand their experiences and mental health concerns. You can schedule weekly, monthly, or quarterly check-ins with your peer partner. This platform also provides guidance and prompts for these check-ins. 

The battle within

The Battle Within is a nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to frontline healthcare workers, as well as veterans, military, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. It offers counseling and support groups for individuals who are coping with trauma, compassion fatigue, and other mental health concerns. The Battle Within can match you with a therapist in their network based on your needs and provide six free therapy sessions. 

BetterHelp

Although it's not free, BetterHelp is another online counseling platform offering mental health services. It provides extension to licensed therapists who can offer support and guidance on a range of issues, from stress and anxiety to trauma and depression. Since sessions can take place wherever you have an internet connection, online therapy may be a convenient option for healthcare workers who need mental health support but may not have the time in their schedule due to shift work or long hours. It can also be more cost-effective than seeing a therapist in person.

Plus, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for healthcare workers. For instance, one such study examined whether brief online therapy interventions could reduce stress and burnout while improving the mental health of individuals within the social and healthcare professions. It found that the online interventions "resulted in significant improvements in stress, burnout and mental health scores."

Crisis support lines

For many mental health concerns, therapy and peer support, such as through the resources detailed above, can be useful. However, for emergencies and crises, there are dedicated lines for immediate support. The following are several crisis support lines to keep in mind. 

988 lifeline

988 is the nationwide, three-digit phone number for individuals in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors in the U.S. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free, 24/7 support for people experiencing distress, including healthcare workers. 

Crisis text line

The Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7 support line for people in crisis. Healthcare workers can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor who can provide emotional support and referrals to local resources. Crisis Text Line also offers resources for healthcare professionals experiencing stress and burnout. 

National domestic violence hotline

For healthcare workers who are experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides free support and resources. The hotline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-799-7233. The hotline also offers an online chat feature, or you can text START to 88788.

National sexual assault hotline

Healthcare workers who have experienced sexual assault can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline. A trained staff member will provide free support and resources to people affected by sexual violence. The hotline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-656-4673.

Other wellness strategies for healthcare workers

Working long hours in intense work environments can cause mental, emotional, and physical stress for healthcare workers. While mental health organizations and groups offer support, there are also various strategies that can be done on your own to improve mental wellness. The following self-care activities may help lessen the effects of stress from work. 

  • Meditation and mindfulness practices: Meditation and mindfulness practices can help healthcare workers manage stress and develop a greater sense of inner peace. These practices involve paying attention to the present moment, accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment, and finding calm in the middle of your busy work environment.
  • Exercise and outdoor activities: Regular exercise can help you stay physically and mentally healthy. Activities like walking, hiking, biking, and swimming can reduce stress and offer a way to let off steam. Spending time outside can be especially helpful, as being in nature can help to reduce stress and improve mood.
  • Hobbies and creative outlets: It can also be important to try to make time for hobbies and interests outside of work. Enjoying creative activities like painting, writing, playing music, or cooking can be a relaxing break from the demands of your job. Having enjoyable hobbies can help you manage stress and lead to a better work-life balance.
Getty/AnnaStills
Healthcare workers can face unique mental health challenges

Takeaway

Being a healthcare worker can be rewarding, but it can also be challenging with its long hours and high-stress environments. If you are experiencing work-related stress or mental health challenges, know that many resources are available, including peer support platforms, crisis lifelines, and organizations that offer free or low-cost therapy for healthcare workers like you. Practicing self-care activities like mindfulness, regular exercise, and creative hobbies can also help you handle stress and have a better work-life balance. To have therapy sessions from the comfort of your home, you can connect with a licensed therapist through online therapy.

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