While the world is applauding their efforts, not everyone understands the challenges entailed by frontline health care workers. These frontline workers are the ones who are directly involved with the diagnosis, treatment and care of those with COVID-19. These individuals are at risk of extreme psychological stress as a result of the uncertainty over the course of this pandemic, ever-increasing cases and work hours, risk of transmission to self and their loved ones, displacement from their home/safe environment as a result of social isolation and quarantine, and stigma. What is often forgotten is that these human beings also have challenges in their own person lives, like taking care of ageing parents, a young child at home or other social responsibilities demanding as much of coping resources as a pandemic.
Research is pouring in from countries like China and Italy which shows that these individuals are clearly at an increased risk of mental health problems like distress, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Some health care workers, especially the ones in a senior position, are often faced with challenges that might violate their moral or ethical codes. These situations often emerge in scarce resource setting where tough decisions are made.
We have tried to enumerate certain measures that can be taken by individuals predisposed to psychological injury/trauma.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS
Remember that feeling distressed and under pressure is a common experience shared by many people working in stressful and high pressure environment. Accept your feelings and face them by reacting rationally towards them. Know that this does not mean weakness or incompetence.
Stressful work environments are taxing to an individual’s mental and physical health. Since physical and mental health are also intricately linked, it’s imperative to make efforts at maintaining physical wellness. Try to get sufficient rest and respite between work shifts. Ensure that sufficient focus is given to healthy eating habits, having regular meals, and physical exercising in any form. Maintain a good social network of friends and family who can be approached during moments of distress.
3. STAY CONNECTED
Reach out to family and friends while maintaining social distancing. Many times, health workers will face isolation and quarantine and at such times family might not be around physically. Ensure to reach out regularly through digital means and social media.
There is an invisible layer of stigma from society and self-stigmatisation surrounding mental health problems. It becomes more pronounced in settings where individual competency can be wrongly judged from show of vulnerabilities. However, professional bodies exist within institutes and otherwise, for providing mental health support to those in need. These professionals are trained to handle such situations without associated stigma and judgement.
Here is a list of some symptoms which, if persisting, should be consulted for:
- Disturbances in sleep
- Disturbances of appetite
- Persistent crying/ low mood/ irritability
- Feeling of hopelessness/ helplessness/ worthlessness
- Feeling of anxiety, feeling of being on edge/ palpitations
- Thoughts of self-harm/ dying
- Aggressive outbursts
- Increased use of alcohol/ other drugs
This is not an exhaustive list and in case of any doubt it’s better to be safe and seek help.