- Frontline health professionals’ mental health has been impacted by extended shifts, continuous exposure to risk, and absorbing secondary trauma.
- The stress that healthcare personnel face is worsened by the fact that they are responsible for saving lives while also worrying for their own and their families’ safety.
No one is more affected by Covid’s devastation on a daily basis than frontline healthcare workers. Despite having been prepared to manage any pressure situation over the years, the pandemic-induced stress and worry have been much above expectations.
Dr. Arvinder Singh, head of the Ashoka Centre for Well Being, says that the second wave had a greater impact. “The second wave saw an unusually high number of deaths as a result of the new variant, a lack of preparedness, and insufficient health-care infrastructure and assistance. During this time, the dominant narratives have been intense grief, pain, frustration, and anger, all of which have had an impact on medical personnel.
Some of the major causes of mental health concerns include “excessively long working hours, night shifts, continuous exposure to risk, absorbing secondary trauma with little time or an emotional safe place to cope with it. Furthermore, the fact that healthcare personnel are responsible for saving lives while also caring about their own and their families adds to their stress. This means that whenever a Covid patient’s family felt helpless, they vented their emotions on the doctors. “Healthcare and frontline staff have been on the receiving end of people’s suffering and frustration. The horror they observed and experienced has left emotional scars,” said Dr. Singh.
“Concerns exclusive to the second wave are fear of ICU psychosis, second year of Covid, infection post-vaccination, and the problem of preparing medical infrastructure,” says managing director Seema Rekha.
According to Rekha, the following issues have arisen repeatedly in both waves:
- They felt like sitting on a powder keg
- Fear of catching Covid
- Excessive workload and burnout
- Long hours with safety gear (PPE, double masks, diapers)
- Helplessness, guilt for not saving lives
- Anxiety for kids’ and family’s health
- Children’s mental health and disrupted daily lives
- Personal financial challenges because private practise could not be established/sustained
- Parents’ health
- Grief and loss of family members
- Nurses and paramedic workers become demotivated as a result of unfortunate incidents of violence
- Pregnancy amid the Covid health crisis
Increased anxiety, distress, insomnia, burnout, and PTSD are some of the mental health issues that healthcare personnel have been dealing with, according to Dr Singh.
Some people are suffering from a condition known as ‘death anxiety.’ “Frontline workers are continuously and substantially more exposed to Covid-related images, information, and ground realities than the rest of the population. Death anxiety, or being in a condition of discomfort and dread, is the result of such frequent exposure to death-related stimuli, as Rekha describes.
Sadly, statistics suggest that only a few healthcare workers have been able to seek assistance. When the source attempted to contact COVID doctors previously, they said they were unable to do so due to a lack of time. “Doctors seeking treatment for mental health difficulties is considerably less due to the busy schedule, long working hours, stigma associated with seeking help, and the expectation that physicians must be tough, handle their own stress, and put the needs of their patients ahead of their own,” Dr Singh says.
Now that healthcare personnel have begun to raise awareness and share resources with colleagues, there is a ray of hope. “They’re also doing mindfulness exercises together. For example, we’ve heard of a nursing unit that incorporates breathing exercises right before performing their rounds in the Covid wards to help them ground themselves before taking on the day. “Making Headspace available to healthcare professionals is just one of our tiny ways of helping and hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of healthcare workers as they conduct the critical work of protecting the health of the communities they serve,” Romotsky explains.
“Mental health concerns among healthcare workers must be addressed in the future, and self-care must be prioritised for all,” adds Dr Singh.