The Limits of Resilience: The need to rebuild mental health and well-being within the public health community

There is an urgent need to rebuild mental health and well-being within the public health workforce.

As the sounds of ambulances and the hum of refrigerated trucks echoed through New York City in the spring of 2020, millions of healthcare workers and essential workers fled their homes in an unprecedented public health crisis. Public health personnel stood up to answer and remained at their posts as the months and years passed. We ran together at this rapid pace and watched each other succumb to fatigue, exhaustion and exhaustion. Our numbers began to dwindle. By March 2021, a CDC survey described a public health workforce in which more than half of respondents reported symptoms of at least one adverse mental health challenge in the previous two weeks. That same year, PH WINS 2021 detailed the alarming state of well-being in the public health community and identified numerous workforce challenges that urgently need to be addressed. Meanwhile, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues and other public health emergencies require responses, including deaths from overdoses, natural disasters, Mpox, RSV and polio. Since March 2020, we have seen setbacks in life expectancy, the management of chronic diseases, the strength of our healthcare system, and public health confidence, all of which require robust public health action.

Read: Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey 2021 (PH WINS)

As we embark on a new year, as we hope this data translates into positive action, our greatest hope is that all of the people who served during the response — public health workers, health workers, essential workers and more — have the time, space and resources to heal. That healing, however, cannot happen in an environment that undermines the enormous drive, dedication, intelligence and excellence of public health workers. There is ample opportunity to learn from pandemic response experiences to save our public health workforce and the systems in which they work. The US Surgeon General recently released a Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing, which can guide us as we build stronger, healthier workplaces. Additionally, we urge the public health community to consider the following key actions:

  • Build internal leadership pathways for staff in communities that are heavily impacted by emergencies.
  • Transform temporary COVID-19 public health workers into a new public health workforce.
  • Develop a dynamic public health emergency response infrastructure.
  • Building resilience in essential basic public health functions.
  • Creating trauma-responsive environments for public health personnel.

We want to thank every single person we’ve had a great opportunity to interact with during the COVID-19 response, the people of New York City, and the incredible team of people who have served and advised the COVID-19 Integrated Data Team. We couldn’t have made it a single day without you, your excellence, your support and your kindness.

Read our article on Journal of Public Health Management and Practice:


Jamie Shaff served as Chief Data Scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene COVID-19 Response. In 2021, Jaimie was recognized by the de Beaumont Foundation as a 40 Under 40 in Public Health honoree.

Madhuri Ray was responsible for health equity data for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene COVID-19 response. In 2021, Madhury was recognized by the de Beaumont Foundation as a 40 Under 40 in Public Health honoree.

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