What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on those who care for patients with mental health-related issues? Our guest blogger, Eating Disorders Dietitian, Oana Oancea, discusses how mental health professionals need to be supported during this challenging and demanding time.
A study, published in BJPsych Open,1 found around a third of hospital healthcare workers reported clinically significant symptoms of anxiety (34.3%) and depression (31.2%), while almost a quarter (24.5%) reported clinically significant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
People experience enormous mental health challenges, whether they are infected with COVID-19 or not and mental health professionals are no exception.
As the number of mental health issues related to COVID-19 is emerging exponentially, it puts mental health professionals under tremendous pressure.
The mental healthcare demand has an upsurge as:
- patients with pre-existing mental illnesses report worsening of their symptoms;
- the general population report stress, anxiety, depression, gaming addiction and burnout;
- the marginalised population have compromised mental health;
- healthcare workers are at high need of mental healthcare.
Mental health professionals have very strong mental abilities to deal with challenges, so they must try not to experience stress, fear, anxiety and depression. We are expected to be patient, strong, motivating, readily available, free from stress and frustrations at the time of need. However, the fact is, we are all human beings and none of us is immune to psychiatric illnesses, frustrations, stress, guilt, fear, anxiety and depression.
Psychological wellbeing has an important impact on an individuals’ performance. However, the mental health professional’s mental health gets grossly ignored. We often fail to seek adequate help for ourselves.
The COVID-19 outbreak has produced a crisis in healthcare globally, including within the mental health sector. Early evidence has shown that healthcare workers directly involved in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with COVID-19 are at risk of developing mental health symptoms.
The impact is so intense that the mental health of healthcare workers has been adversely affected. Mental health professionals are under tremendous pressure. Lockdowns and the closure of essential services (eg, outpatient consultations) have resulted in limiting the access to mental healthcare in many settings.
Sources of distress and anxiety through the pandemic may include emotions of vulnerability or loss of control and concerns regarding the health of colleagues, friends and family due to the spread of the virus. Other worries can relate to changes in working conditions and environment or isolation and loneliness. All these concerns can lead to irritability, bad mood, reduced communication skills, and reduced ability to cope with the emotional demands of the workplace.
SEEKING PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE
We have great potential to change or adapt when necessary, but need basic social and material resources to do so.
Psychological resilience is an important concept for the healthcare employees who are faced with many different risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Psychological resilience is a personal characteristic comprising three subdimensions:
Psychological resilience is possible through positive structuring of relations, continuing positivity, developing emotional insight, balancing professional and social life and strengthening spirituality.
HOPE FOR THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
Despite COVID-19 and quarantine, lockdown and fear, frustration and anger, it’s not impossible to get busy living in whatever way we can. This may not be the life we knew, but freedom is inside you. There is the music that is YOU.
We will get free, and freedom can have a new face. Remember Red’s words, Morgan Freeman’s character, in The Shawshank Redemption? While on the bus at the start of his new journey, he says, “I hope. I hope…”
For years and years, I told my patients to “hang on in there”, “don’t give up”, “have hope” and until now, I never felt those words related to me. It has taken a pandemic to fully understand the words I’ve repeated to others for years. It has taken a pandemic for me to understand the power of positive words to help me find psychological resilience.
So, don’t forget Red’s words: “I hope. I hope…”. They’re the starting point for looking after your own mental health.
Eating Disorder Dietitian,
Mountainhall Treatment Centre, Dumfries
Oana works with Day Centre patients and outpatients.
She also holds discussions about healthy eating and mental health
at the Carers Support Centre in Dumfries.
In the past, she led the CAMHS Addiction and Eating
Disorder Unit in Priory Hospital, Chelmsford.
- Wanigasooriya et al (Dec, 2020). Mental health symptoms in a cohort of hospital healthcare workers following the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. BJPsych Open. DOI: 10.1192/bjo.2020.150