Don’t raise your eyebrows. Nobody can possibly deny that Health care workers are the rescuers in this global fight! But there are some serious questions which need attention. How long can these health workers keep working? A more important question is are they healthy?
A study conducted in March in Singapore amongst the Health care workers, which was published in Annals.org states that ou of the total 470 (94%) participants, 14.5% had anxiety, 8.9% depression, 6.6% stress and 7.7% experienced symptoms of PTSD. A study conducted in Wuhan with 140 ICU nurses on 3 February 2020, showed all of them suffered from somatic symptoms like Headache, palpitations, etc.
These are some examples of how this pandemic is taking over the HCWs. They are not only fighting COVID-19, but they are fighting the various mental health issues simultaneously.
What are the mental health issues faced by HCWs?
Many HCWs are facing high levels of stress. Healthcare workers have to work for longer hours than usual owing to the severe conditions. Also, the number of patients is continuously increasing which is increasing the workload on the HCWs. The continuous wearing of PPE kits also interferes with their eating schedules, toilet going frequency and also create breathing difficulties. When the body is not fit, the clear implications can be seen on mental health as well.
The other issue HCWs are facing is anxiety. With limited resources available many workers are not provided with PPE kits. This has created anxiety of contracting COVID or passing it on the loved ones.
Many doctors and nurses are vulnerable to moral injury. With tough decisions to be made who is to be given and not given life support, health care workers who are trained to save every life might find it hard to adjust with. Many HCWs are also filled with guilt when they see patients die or their own colleagues die.
A report said that doctors in America are facing burnout i.e. loss of enthusiasm to work in a simple sense. With increased pressure and hard schedules, it is obvious that humans can’t stay working like machines.
Some health care workers are facing symptoms of PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These HCWs will need a proper amount of damage control to come back to their original selves. Likewise, a significant number of HCWs in the frontline are facing mental health issues.
Are health care workers provided with Psychological support?
The WHO issued guidelines for HCWs, team leaders to keep them motivated and provide them with important support. The Canada Psychological Association have started providing health care workers with psychological support by connecting them with psychologists.
The Indian Medical Association, a national voluntary organisation in India is planning of providing the doctors with 24/7 counselling helpline for doctors said the Economic Times’ report. They have already recruited 16 psychologist and psychiatrists according to the report.
According to a guideline issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare dated 20th April, a tollfree number 08046110007 is provided for psychosocial support to the health care workers.
In the study mentioned earlier in the article, it was also stated that some HCWs were already provided with Psychological assistance. Similarly, various countries have come up with their helpline numbers to provide support to the HCWS.
What more can be done for Healthcare workers?
The policy of “Prevention is better than cure” can always be implied. The health care workers have to work very hard as it is an emergency situation. But we should not forget that they are human beings not machines. Rather than working on a deteriorated mental health afterwards, organisations can pool in resources to prepare the doctors mentally for inevitable circumstances.
Providing all the HCWs with clear instructions and maintaining the transparency in the institution can help the HCWs reduce the anxiety because of uncertainty. And of course, providing the PPE kits to the HCWs in the frontline is the first task that needs to be done. For that the government, the manufacturing units let it be public or private and the intelligentsia should come together to find solutions.
If possible every hospital should appoint a Psychiatrist or Psychologist for immediate help needed by HCWs to face trauma and other symptoms. Many psychological symptoms can lead to physical symptoms, which is also called somatic symptoms. Making the HCWs aware of this can help them cope with the situations.
The HCWs should also be provided with self-help kits which are easily comprehensible so that they can cope with these hard times. Let us be empathetic to the frontline fighters and let us not stigmatize them. Finally, whomsoever we are, we should play our roles in this COVID-19 pandemic with utmost sincerity. As a citizen let us try to abide by the regulations which are provided to keep ourselves safe. We should take charge of our health and make the best decisions for ourselves and for people who might be affected by our decisions.