Frontline health workers battle anxiety, burnout, PTSD and other issues in pandemic

23 June, 2021  | Tenzin Norzom
The stress that healthcare workers are dealing with is compounded by the fact that they have the responsibility of saving lives while they worry about that of their own and their families.
There is no one encountering the devastating impact of Covid on daily basis more than frontline healthcare workers. Despite being trained over the years to handle any pressure situation, the pandemic-induced stress and anxiety have been way beyond what one could imagine.
tells “The second wave has been marked with an extraordinary number of deaths due to the new variant, lack of preparedness, and inadequate health care infrastructure, and support.

Intense grief, pain, frustration, and anger have been the dominant narratives during this period,” all of which have impacted medical professionals.

“Excessively long working hours, night shifts, prolonged exposure to risk, absorbing secondary trauma with no time or an emotional safe place to deal with it”, have been some of the primary causes of mental health issues. Besides, the stress that healthcare workers are dealing with is compounded by the fact that they have the responsibility of saving lives while they worry about their own and of their families’. This means that each time a Covid patient’s family has been helpless, they have channeled their frustrations onto the doctors. “The healthcare and frontline workers have been at the receiving end of the pain and frustration of the people. The trauma witnessed and experienced by them has left emotional scars,” continues Dr Singh.

Headspace, a well-known mindfulness app, recently rolled out an initiative to offer free subscriptions to healthcare professionals across India, to cope with the rising levels of burnout. “During this unprecedented time of stress for healthcare workers, it is important we support these frontline workers. Published research shows Headspace can positively impact many of the factors related to burnout, including stress and negative emotions. Research specifically shows 14 percent reduction in healthcare professional burnout after as little as four sessions of Headspace and 12 percent reduction in stress for medical students after 30 days,” Sarah Romotsky, RD and Director of Healthcare Partnerships, tells the outlet.

Aligning wellness solutions, AntarManh Consulting had 30 healthcare workers reaching out for help regarding mental health in the past 18 months, while 15 sought help in the past two months. “Concerns exclusive to the second wave are fear of ICU psychosis, the second year of Covid, infection post-vaccination, and the challenge of arranging medical infrastructure,” says managing director Seema Rekha. The following have been consistent concerns in both waves, according to Rekha:

*They felt like sitting on a powder keg

*Fear of catching Covid

*Excessive workload and burnout

*Long hours with safety gears (PPE, double masks, diapers)

*Helplessness, guilt for not saving lives

*Anxiety for the health of kids and family

*Children’s mental health and their disrupted daily lives

*Personal financial challenges since private practice could not be established/sustained

*Parent’s health

*Grief and loss of family members

*Nurses and paramedic staff gets demotivated due to unfortunate incidence of violence

*Pregnancy during Covid health crisis

Some of the common mental health problems healthcare workers have been facing are increased anxiety, distress, insomnia, burnout and PTSD, says Dr Singh.

Unfortunately, the numbers show that only a few healthcare workers have been able to reach out for help. When the outlet had reached out to COVID doctors earlier, they attributed it to lack of time. “Doctors reaching out for help for mental health concerns is much less owing to the busy schedule, long working hours, stigma attached to seeking help and the expectation that the physicians have to be strong, handle their stress themselves and prioritize the needs of their patient before their own,” Dr Singh adds. There is a ray of hope now that healthcare workers have taken to raising awareness and sharing resources with colleagues. “They are also practising mindfulness together. For example, we’ve heard of a nursing unit incorporating breathing exercises right before doing their rounds in the Covid wards to help ground them before they tackle the day. Making Headspace available to healthcare professionals is just our small way of supporting and aiming to make a positive difference in the lives of healthcare workers as they do the important work of safeguarding the health of communities they serve,” shares Romotsky.

“Going forward, healthcare workspaces need to address these mental health concerns of the healthcare workers and prioritize self-care for all,” says Dr Singh.

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