With health care professionals, fighting at the frontline with the COVID-19 pandemic, the stress level is taking a toll on their mental health.
The healthcare professionals are at the frontline across the nations, fighting against COVID-19, which has been termed as the deadliest disease the world has faced by the United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres. However, the healthcare professionals are not only physically fighting against the global pandemic, but their mental health is being compromised with the extended working hours.
A report by the United Nations Organisation, states that the healthcare professionals, during the time of coronavirus outbreak are more vulnerable to suffer from mental health crisis.
The Plight of Health care Professionals-
Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits from head to toe, with a mask covering their faces, stethoscope hanging from their neck and a stat board on their hand; is a routine scenario in the hospitals all over the world, where healthcare professionals continue to fight with the global pandemic.
Dr. Morin Joy Daya, an orthopaedic surgeon in Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Sciences, Indore is amongst the people who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontline. He said that the physical stress triggers the mental stress amongst the health professionals while working with COVID-19 patients. He said, “It all depends on the patients load. Sometimes, with more number of patients getting admitted in the COVID-19 ward, the health care professional has to work the whole night.”
With the outbreak of the global pandemic many health care professionals have to work for more than 10-12 hours a day.
Dr.Daya also said that a PPE suit is a challenge that triggers anxiety and claustrophobia.“Once a health care worker wears a PPE kit, before entering an isolation ward, they are not supposed to remove the mask, they are not supposed to breath without masks, use the washroom and arenot supposed to drink water,” he said.“After wearing that suit, within one hour, the doctor starts having dyspnea (shortness of breath). The person starts feeling claustrophobic and their anxiety gets triggered.”
Echoing the thoughts of Dr Daya, another doctor working in a private hospital based in Tamil Nadu said, “I am working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where severe cases of COVID-19 patients are admitted. Although healthcare professionals work very long hours, the biggest mental challege that I’m facing is that after wearing the PPE suits we cannot drink or eat for hours.
Anita Varghese, a staff nurse at Hamidiya Hospital, Bhopal, is amongst the team which collects COVID-19 samples from the suspected cases in Bhopal. She said, “This extensive work takes a toll on our mental health. We many times feel anxious, knowing that we could be next, infected by coronavirus. Since we know that this is for a social cause, we somehow manage to forget how it is impacting our mental health, and thus continue to work.”
Dr.PrashantJadiya, the Chief Medical Officer of Indore said that the government has not provided any counselling support so far, however, they have asked the doctors to do meditation in this kind of situation.
Away From Family-
With the outbreak of Coronavirus, many health care professionals are now residing in a hotel or a hostel, so that their families do not get affected.
Dr.PrashantJadiyasaid that the COVID-19 monitoring team has not gone home for days. He said “It has been more than 20 days since we have seen our families. My team and I are currently staying in a hotelconsideringwe do not want our families or any other person from our locality to get affected.”
Dr.Dayasaid, “The mental stress is not limited to working long hours in the hospital. But for many of the medics, who stay with their families, this situation has now become a toothache as they are constantly worried about their families getting affected due to coronavirus.”
Amrita, a staff nurse at a private hospital in Raipur, and working with suspected COVID-19 cases, said that most of the time, the families of health care professionals become apprehensive when they learn that they will be treating coronavirus patients. She said, “It took my family a lot of time to accept the fact that I will be working with COVID-19 patients. They were persistent that I should stop going to the hospital. I know they are scared for me but at the same time proud of, the kind of work I am doing.”
Sonali Singh, fiancé of Dr.Daya said that she is proud of the work, Dr.Daya is doing but at the same time, she is scared that he might get infected. She said, “It has been weeks since I have met him. I watch news that show how doctors are getting infected because of COVID-19, and fear the same for him. It’s a difficult time for the families of health care professionals. We can only watch from afar and hope that nothing happens to them.”
Many reportsindicate abuse against health care workers, along with others forced out of their homes Dr.Sarman Singh, Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS), Bhopal, condemned such behaviour. He said, “It is really unfortunate how the healthcare professionals are being treated in India. It creates anxiety and disturbance amongst other health care professions.”
The Need for Counselling
Dr.Kasturi, a Psychiatrist based in Kolkata, said that just like everyone else, the situation with healthcare professionals have changed. She said, “It’s very obvious that the amount of work for health care professionals has tripled now,” ”
“In the past couple of days, other counsellors including me have received numerous calls from health care professionals seeking counselling so that they can be calm and work efficiently during this pandemic. We have asked them to call us whenever they find the need to.” She added.
Dr.Kasturi also emphasised the need for counselling amongst health care professionals. “There should be a counselling team formed in every state by the government, so that the doctors can talk with them and not being anxious. Infact, every institution must have a counsellor regarding this.”
Dr Singh, disagreed with meditation to be the only way for doctors to remain calm. He said, “As a director of an institution, I personally monitor the mental status of all our staff. Time to time I talk with them or counsel them. It’s really unfortunate that some of the institutions are not doing this. This is a dynamic situation, where all the health care professionals need solidarity.”