THE PPE suits are back, as are the long, grueling hours in Covid hospitals, with stress levels rising in tandem with cases. The constant stress has led to an increase in healthcare workers seeking mental health support.”
“The major apprehensions apart from the risk of acquiring the disease, are the tough working conditions in the PPE during hot and humid summers. I recall many of our fellow health care workers became unwell and had syncopal attacks during their duties. Few healthcare workers also got infected in their line of duty including myself. The possibility of carrying the disease back to our family is also the scarier part of the story. The other important challenge to tackle is the development of ‘Covid fatigue’ amongst health care workers,” said Dr Kamal Kajal, Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesia & Intensive Care, who was the Nodal Officer, Covid Block, PGIMER in the first wave.
Dr Jyoti Aggarwal, Junior Resident, General Medicine, GMCH 32, Chandigarh, sharing her experiences said that apart from working twelve hours straight, it was not just about looking after the patients medically, but also providing them emotional support in trying times.
“HCWs are under a lot of stress. We have to wear PPE suits and masks for straight six to seven hours, not answer the call of nature, not eat or drink. It is a draining environment, physically and emotionally. Immediate decisions have to be taken every few minutes in the ICU to save lives, which is very taxing day in and out, and there is tremendous and constant stress and pressure,” observed Prof Sandeep Grover, from the Department of Psychiatry at PGIMER.
With treatment protocols changing rapidly, doctors are required to be constantly in charge and those on Covid duties can’t see their families, are not getting enough breaks and rotations, like in the last wave, as they have to do non-Covid duties also, emphasised Dr Grover.
“We have seen almost a 30 per cent increase in health care workers seeking formal consultation for stress related to the pandemic, with many colleagues asking for guidance informally. As a psychiatrist, my sincere advice to them is that when you are over-stressed take a break, don’t keep dragging yourself. This is the new norm now; it will continue for long. If we don’t address the problem here and now, this mental health morbidity may lead to a breakdown. We must anticipate the future,” stressed Dr Grover.
In fact, the Institute has a round-the-clock helpline for HCWs, with psychiatrists and psychologists answering calls and reaching out to help.
Not just HCWs, common people and Covid patients are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, seeing images of distress around, lack of oxygen, hospital beds, overburdened doctors, adding to their distress. Isolation, loneliness and a lack of company add to the issue. “Anxiety will manifest in increased heart rate, muscle stiffness, frequent urination, sleep issues, distress, with oxygen saturation levels also dropping. Don’t panic, get yourself a good family doctor, seek constant advice, monitor your fever and oxygen levels and trust your doctor. They will know if you need a hospital and will guide you along the line,” added Dr Grover.
Covid-19 patients admitted at the institute are screened for mental distress by residents and after evaluation, if needed, therapy is provided.
“We have a stable number of tele-consultations, and the number is picking up. The idea is to bring a smile on everyone’s face. Remember, we need to be positive, this is a temporary phase and it will pass, and what we need to do is work together at every level and take some time away for ourselves,” summed up Dr Grover.
“I suggest psychological counselling for some who have taken it hard on themselves. Of course, anxiety leads to what we call panic attacks which is characterised by acute breathlessness or restlessness associated with a fear of doom,” said Dr Zafar Ahmed, Senior Consultant, Critical Care, Pulmonology and Chest and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Mohali.