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Diving deeper into the impact on HCW’s mental health and well-being

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Dr Marcus Ranney, General Manager, Thrive Global India emphasises on the challenges that Corona Warriors are exposed to on a daily basis not only putting their lived at risk by treating COVID-19 patients but also mental challenges that they face and to seek support if the need arises

In my previous article we questioned why there is an emergent phenomena of social stigmatisation being associated with COVID-19, particularly amongst healthcare workers (HCWs). A process which is leading to the mental and physical abuse of these corona warriors by our citizens, even whilst Prime Minister Modi is attempting to seal a stamp of solidarity amongst Indians through the hand-clapping gesture of March 22, Janta Curfew and the military parade of May 3. The unfortunate spate of continued attacks on HCWs has now resulted in the Government issuing an ordinance, to the country’s century old Epidemic Act, on April 22, making it a punishable offence now with upto seven years in prison and a financial penalty of upto Rs 7 lakh.

But compounding this abuse amongst HCWs is the real risk of developing the illness, as they put themselves in physical danger everyday for our sakes. We can all recollect a moment on our social media feed where a tear has been brought to our eyes reading posts about doctors and nurses unable to hug their own children and parents for fear of possible disease transmission. Of the young doctors in the NHS UK that are still unconscious, intubated and being ventilated having contracted severe form of the virus and the scores of HCWs around the world that have already lost their lives to COVID-19. Governments and people the world over are doing all they can to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to these frontline warriors.

An equally large concern, which will no doubt impact thousands of HCWs in the weeks and months to come, is the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst the medical fraternity – something which was observed after the SARS and Ebola epidemics as well.

HCWs are combating multiple stressors right now, at an intensity much higher than normal. Facing all the same challenges that ordinary citizens are dealing with, they are also seeing added work pressures such as being inundated with patients, often without the correct amount of resources to treat them (including lack of adequate PPE). They see their colleagues falling ill around them and are having to navigate constantly changing treatment protocols in physically demanding environments.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine (JAMA) surveyed 1300 doctors in the Wuhan province of China, where the virus originated, who served in the immediate response teams to the lockdown. In this cohort, the responses indicated mental health conditions were significantly large with about 50 per cent of doctors showing signs of depression, 45 per cent with anxiety, 34 per cent complaining of insomnia and 72 per cent suffering from psychological distress.

Our Corona Warriors, the real super-heroes of our age, are the brave men and women who are serving our citizens. Caught up in the emotions and the chaos, it’s all too easy for them to feel the pressure of the experience. But it is important for them to realise that feeling stressed is by no means a sign of weakness. Vulnerability is a human emotion of strength and managing one’s own mental health and psychosocial well-being during this time is as important as managing your physical health. To our brave warriors, I would remind them that it is perfectly ok to ask for help and seek support. That they must never let the stigma create any self-doubt or negative self-talk; and that isolation is dangerous. And that they, like all human beings, need the same basic needs to be met – to feel safe, to be well rested, to eat and drink and be energised to create a strong immunity and finally the need to feel connected to their loved ones and the outside world.

Whilst this pandemic has highlighted the biggest weaknesses which exist in our society, our inability to take care of others, it is my hope that the nation building that will begin in the months and years to come, across the world, starts with the basic provisions of ensuring quality, equitable, accessible healthcare for all – physical and mental – for individual citizens and for its carers alike. Stay safe.

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