The Mental Health of Health Care Workers as Front Liners in This Pandemic
From normal shifts with limited patients to longer shifts with little breaks to ever-increasing patients battling a new virus with limited medical and protection supplies to effectively administer treatment.
This amounts to pressure on the global health care workforce i.e. the potentially overwhelming burden of illness that stresses the health care capacity. As a nurse stated in an interview, “I don’t think I was ever prepared for something like this…This situation has proved to be a situation that none of us knew was going to happen”
In the fight against this pandemic, they are not only being exposed to the physical risks, the risk of being infected and infecting the people around them; they are also exposed to fatigue and the increased psychological trauma of deaths, which affects their mental health.
A doctor said during an interview, “the stress is intense; seeing people die is not the issue. We are trained to deal with death. The issue is giving up on people we wouldn’t normally give up on”.
A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association quantified the risks to which health workers are exposed to be very high. The survey-based study examined the mental health of about 1,257 health workers attending to COVID-19 patients in China.
From a large proportion, 50 per cent were reported to be experiencing symptoms of depression; 45 per cent, anxiety; 34 per cent, insomnia and 71.5 per cent, psychological distress, with women, nurses and frontline health care workers accounting for severe degrees of all measurements of mental health symptoms.
The figures shown may not represent the total number of the health care workers but it paints a bigger picture of what to expect after this pandemic is over.
As rightly stated by Ehi Iden, the Chief Executive Officer, Occupational Health and Safety Managers, in an interview with the Guardian, “we need to keep an eye closely on these health care workers, we have heard of a few cases of some suicidal events…some people can get overwhelmed over what they have seen happen in the hospital and decide not to continue with life, so we need to look out for these. Having supporting mental counsellors will be ideal”
The mental health of a person is seen to represent the overview of the health of a person, and if the mental health is disturbed then the person is unwell. The issue of the mental health care of health workers should be taken seriously by the state people and the world at large.
Health care workers are also humans and their mental health could be disturbed. They should not be seen as superhumans without emotions or expected to stomach everything they see or that deaths should not be a new thing to them – this mindset should be removed.
This pandemic is a warlike situation: the health care workers are the soldiers at the front line of the battle and the people are the civilians trusting on the soldiers to win this war, and this cannot be effectively done if our health care workers are not in stable conditions both physically and mentally (suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder).
A way of preserving their mental health as a people is to appreciate their efforts. A call or text will go a long way in reassuring them of your support. Community or family stigma is not needed at this point; they need our support in every possible way, most importantly in observing sanitary practices and the stay at home order.
The states should ensure that all the health workers have Personal Protective Equipment and enough medical equipment, for a soldier should not be sent to war without ammunition. Remuneration, social protection and rest periods should be looked into. After this phase, the health worker should be assigned to a mental health counsellor or therapist.
As health care workers, try stress-relieving activities, eating healthy and sufficient food, taking respite during short breaks, staying in touch with loved ones and friends and seek social support when needed and if possible, from a social support group. Remember we appreciate your efforts and you are doing the best you can.
This writer also uses this medium to appreciate every health care worker in the world working tirelessly day and night during this pandemic, condoles with those who lost a loved one and also acknowledges every caregiver.
Words are not enough to appreciate your work, resilience, strength because it takes courage to stand and work. Your efforts are appreciated.