According to WHO, more than 22 thousand health care workers are infected by Coronavirus, globally. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a physical health threat, but may also be triggering a mental health epidemic, and a big concern for the health care workers – in our case COVID warriors.
The COVID warriors are at the front line of the COVID-19 outbreak response and as such are exposed to hazards that put them at risk of infection. Hazards include pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence.
As the health care workers are in close contact with infected patients who can pass on the disease to them, they are worried about infecting their own family and friends. Lack of proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was a big concern for quite a few weeks. In reality, PPE is critical to protecting health care professionals’ physical and mental well-being.
Though now the availability of PPEs may not be an issue, the medical staff attending COVID-19 patients have to wear the full range of PPE, often for long hours without being able to take a break because they risk infection by removing the PPEs.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, reports 36% of medical staff responding to COVID-19 suffer from insomnia. Frontline staff, who had education of high school or less, had a 2.7 times higher risk of insomnia than doctors. The health care workers after their hospital shifts are also more likely to feel depressed, anxious, and have stress-based trauma.
In another study conducted to assess the impact on mental health of the health care workers, published in JAMA Network Open, reports distress as the highest concern (71.5%), followed by depression (50.4%), anxiety (44.6%), and insomnia (34.0%). Women and frontline healthcare workers reported more severe mental health symptoms across all dimensions.
For the administrative heads in hospitals it is often a challenge to motivate the health care workers and to get their team together committed to serving COVID patients. Dr. Anjan Trikha, Chairman of COVID Centre AIIMS, said in an interview, “The concerns are the same at all levels. Everybody is afraid. And they are working in an infected atmosphere. There is a fear, and this is the biggest challenge.”
Attacks on Health Care Workers
In the past few weeks, many cases have been reported in India where the frontline COVID-19 warriors were ruthlessly assaulted. From Bengaluru to Indore, there were six attacks on the medical professionals, stone-pelting at health workers, misbehaving with a lady doctor and nurses – all of this happened amid an unprecedented health crisis in the country. Govt. has brought a much-deserved ordinance to end violence against health workers, it carries imprisonment from 6 months to 7 years if anyone found guilty of attack on doctors and health workers. Govt. has also announced accidental insurance cover of Rs. 50 lakhs for the health workers who are attending COVID-19 patients.
How to protect Health Workers Mental Health
The wellbeing and emotional resilience of healthcare workers are key components of maintaining essential healthcare services during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is crucial to anticipate the stresses associated and put in place a support system for health care workers. And for this, both institutional support and self-help initiatives need to be undertaken.
Mental health assessment is required for the warriors who are exposed to a high level of stress and they should be encouraged to attend stress management and resilience-building workshops/webinars, and practice the exercises suggested during such guided sessions. For cases that are critical, online counseling or formal mental health treatment may be taken up.
It is imperative to monitor and assess the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals, and their successful reintegration with colleagues, if they become infected for some reason. Special interventions should be undertaken to promote mental well-being in health care workers exposed to COVID-19, especially for nurses, and frontline workers requiring particular attention.
Employers should also be proactive in encouraging supportive care in an atmosphere free of stigma, coercion, and fear of negative consequences.
ValuEndow expert team is committed to extending its services on mental health assessment, stress management & resilience-building workshops, and need-based counseling for the COVID-19 warriors.