As COVID continues to rampage across the country, at the extreme end of personal and professional burnout are doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. The ongoing pandemic has not just exposed them to long and relentless working hours, added to that is the lack of professional support and resources, exposing them to the risk of getting infected. In parts of India, social ostracization of health workers is also a major concern. Healthcare workers also live in constant fear due to this and stay away from their families to prevent them from being infected.
The outbreak of the virus has put tremendous pressure on our entire medical infrastructure. Since the pandemic started, the cases of mental health concerns faced by doctors and nurses have been on an uptick. There have been several reported cases of panic attacks, symptoms of anxiety, burnout, and depression due to long working hours. Furthermore, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in agonizingly humid conditions and taking care of the sudden inflow of patients without warning is something that adds more to the everyday stress of the practitioner.
· A recent study published in the journal of American Medical Association found that among 1257 healthcare workers catering to 34 hospitals, about 50% of them have reported symptoms of depression, 45% have reported anxiety, 34% insomnia, and about 71.5% have experienced psychological distress.
· Unable to do anything about the rampant spread of the virus is even more frustrating than the physical exhaustion they face daily.
· Doctors worldwide feel that seeing many people die almost every other day, breaking this news to their relatives, lack of socializing outside to share things with peers, and being unable to take a break are some of the reasons for the increased level of anxiety and depression.
· Most doctors feel that the toughest part of their job is to break the news to people that their loved one/relative is no more. Given that the success rates of survival are highly tangible, updating the families about the treatment and clinical rates has been exceedingly difficult.
· Throughout the pandemic, we have hailed medical practitioners as heroes. They are carrying the brunt of the collective hopes of the entire nation which believes that the doctors can save them or their loved ones at any cost. Amidst this, it is important to make them feel that they can seek help whenever required and that help must be readily available.
Key Indicators of Mental Health Issues at the Workplace
· Reduced job performance and productivity
· Sessions of low attention span
· A rapid outburst of anger, mood swings, and crying spells
· Reporting to work after getting intoxicated
· Memory loss
· Impaired functioning of daily tasks and physical capability
· Changes in regular communication with coworkers
· Burn-out which also includes but not limited to emotional exhaustion
· Excessive worry of contracting the infection
· Feeling restless, incompetent, depersonalized, nervous, anxious with a decreased sense of accomplishment
· All kinds of sleep disturbances ranging from insomnia, frequent awakening, excessive sleep, early morning awakening, etc.
· Breakdown in communication with peers and family
What can be done to avert this situation?
HCWs need to be constantly updated on the changing guidelines of testing, quarantining, and treatment. The onus of staying updated must move away from the practitioner, to an independent service personnel. The periodic guidelines issued by the government keep changing depending on the situation and the healthcare workers must be made aware of these in an adaptive, non-intrusive manner. Here are some of the arrangements that can be done to take care of the mental health of the practitioners and frontline workers.
· Ensure that there is proper staff rotation from jobs that give higher stress to lower stress and vice-versa.
· Adhere to flexible work schedules
· Ensure than existing channels of communication and used and optimized to convey policy updates, regulatory requirements etc.
· Ensure that there is proper childcare with safety precautions in place
· Provide paid leaves for a staff member who is in isolation or quarantining
· Ensure that there are small celebrations in the workplace to keep up the morale of the staff.
· People working in hospitals are often stigmatized by the public. The staff members must be supported mentally by the organization as these situations can be stressful.
· Ensure that relatives of patients have a fair understanding of the reality and risks, and remove the risk of emotional outbursts aimed at practitioners.
Making sure that these guidelines are met will help in tackling the situation and maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.