Our Health Workers Need Psychological Support

28 May, 2020
Many of our health workers are working without adequate means of protection. They're subjected to tremendous emotional distress, long shifts, and traumatic experiences that they can never forget. Thus, it's a priority that they receive psychological support to face this harsh reality in a better way.

Our health care providers need psychological support. In this “war” against the coronavirus, our soldiers lack adequate supplies, are exposed to the disease, and to long shifts of frantic and exhausting work.

In addition to this, they face the hardest thing of all: the feeling of powerlessness in the face of every life lost. The emotional toll is tremendous, and a situation like this will leave both short and long term consequences.

This situation is happening in several countries around the world. Doctors, nurses, assistants, and other health professionals have been prepared for a wide range of situations, including emergencies. They know how to act in the event of an accident, a fire, tragedies such as those caused by terrorism, or natural crises such as hurricanes or floods.

But the coronavirus has caught us all off guard. No one expected it. Terms like “pandemic” were perhaps things of the past, something that no one could have foreseen. It was something that had no place in our current society. This perfect, advanced, and industrialized society.

And yet it arrived. And our healthcare workers are facing something unknown that’s often beyond them. However, far from giving up, they continue giving the best of themselves every day.

Health ministries and doctor and nurse trade unions are warning that this pandemic will take its toll on them, even more in the future. This emotional overload can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder in the future.

We can see them doing their job with undeniable professionalism. However, it’s also common, and perfectly understandable, that, from time to time, stress gets the better of them and they break down in tears.

A doctor with a mask.

Our health care providers need psychological support

Retired doctors have gone back to work in many countries. Medical and nursing students in their final years are facing what will undoubtedly be the hardest and most complex task of their lives.

It’s an exceptional situation and they’re the only ones who know how they’re coping on a day to day basis. Our health workers need urgent psychological support for two main reasons.

Firstly, for them to be able to manage their day-to-day lives a little better. The second is to reduce the psychological consequences that will stick with them. Every person lost, every experience they lived out, every fear they felt, and every time their efforts couldn’t save the people that succumbed to the illness. It all takes its toll.

What effects is the COVID-19 pandemic having on our health service?

Every day at 8 pm sharp, many people around the world are applauding our health workers from their windows and balconies. This is the only thing we can do for them: to stay at home to contain the contagion curve and give them our affection and admiration from a distance. However, we’re not always aware of what they’re really going through.

Their workdays consist of:

  • Lack of PPE (personal protective equipment).
  • The vast numbers of patients and how hard it is to tend to all of them.
  • In the SARS epidemic of the 2000s, health workers represented a fifth of the infections worldwide. In this pandemic, we’re already exceeding that number.
  • A high level of exposure.
  • The fear of contagion is compounded by the fear of infecting family members. Returning home always means having to take off their clothes and take a shower to avoid contaminating their loved ones.
  • They’re often forced to make quick and often heartbreaking decisions. Like choosing who to put on a respirator based on the patient’s age.
  • The stress, emotional distress, and anxiety levels are overwhelming.
Health workers need psychological support.

What kind of strategies can help them?

Our health care providers need psychological support and they need it now. The interventions and strategies that we should address are:

  • The first step is to ensure the safety of healthcare workers. Not having adequate supplies and equipment creates distress.
  • We must develop adequate organizational strategies. The idea is to avoid excessively long shifts and give them space and small breaks throughout the day, in addition to proper nutrition.
  • Every worker must know their limits. Not everyone is the same, nor do they cope with certain situations in the same way. Being mentally and emotionally exhausted during the shift can mean they make mistakes, which they can’t afford. Therefore, if the professional feels overwhelmed or exhausted, they should feel able to ask for help.
  • When the health professional leaves the center and goes home, they must be able to reboot mentally. In other words, as far as possible, they need to try to leave behind what they experienced in the hospitals and focus on relaxing and leisure activities at home.

Emotional release

  • There should be an area for emotional release and time to meet with colleagues. There needs to be a therapeutic environment where they can tell their experiences, release their anguish, share their tears, and receive support.
  • It’s necessary to create a protocol. Our health professionals need psychological attention to handle everything they have experienced on a weekly basis. This strategy is essential in order to prevent them from developing post-traumatic stress disorder when this is all over. The rate of depression associated with this crisis will be very high tomorrow if we don’t address it today.
A tired doctor who needs psychological support.

In conclusion, the doctors, nurses, assistants, and cleaners in health care facilities are our soldiers in this battle. We must equip them with the right tools. Some of them are material, while others are psychological. Right now, they’re experiencing dramatic situations that they barely have time to process. If they don’t do so properly, the consequences may be serious.

Let’s take care of those who save us. Let’s support our real heroes.