Stress and anxiety brought on by treatment for high levels of serious illness and death have become commonplace on the medical front
LONDON – Steve, a paramedic in the North East of England, contracted the coronavirus two months ago. Then his wife fell ill. Both recovered, but throughout their lives they feared passing it on to their two young sons.
“When I got back to work, I couldn’t sleep properly because I was afraid I could bring the virus home and find it,” the 46-year-old told AFP.
“I never thought I would have to work on the front line in a pandemic. I wish it was just a dream and when I wake up the world will return to what it was. “
Doctors, nurses and paramedics wearing full protective clothing have become a lasting image of the pandemic.
But the stress and anxiety brought on by the treatment of high levels of serious illness and death has become commonplace on the medical front.
Now professional organizations and experts from Europe’s most affected countries want more support to tackle the psychological impact on staff – especially in the case of a second wave.
“We have all the ingredients for a major risk of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Xavier Noel, Belgian mental health expert.
Noel, clinical psychologist in Brussels, identified nurses as the most worrying, given their proximity to seriously ill and dying patients.
“They faced a totally unusual death rate and way of dying, in a more dehumanized context, without the presence of families to support them,” he said.
– Risk of depression and suicide –
Europe has officially registered nearly 175,000 deaths in more than two million cases, and across the continent the battle to save lives has taken its toll.
In Belgium, studies have indicated that more than twice as many healthcare workers as usual had considered leaving the profession, and levels of dissatisfaction were four times higher.
Another found the highest alcohol consumption among health professionals.
In France, an association supporting healthcare workers said it receives more than 70 calls a day from doctors about the crisis.
Seven out of ten people were women, and a handful of calls were even said to indicate “an imminent risk of suicide.”
In Spain, more than 50,000 health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 – 22 percent of the total number of cases in the country, according to the Ministry of Health.
Anxiety is rife, according to a study by the Complutense University of Madrid, adding that just over half of the 1,200 doctors surveyed had “depressive symptoms”.
A similar number (53%) showed signs “consistent with post-traumatic stress,” according to the study.
“We believe that urgent psychological intervention is necessary for this group if the much feared second wave materializes,” said the authors of the report, Lourdes Luceno Moreno and Jesus Martin Garcia.
“We are going to see emotionally affected professionals and a health system with no response capacity. “
The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan also found that seven out of 10 health professionals in the most affected regions of Italy were exhausted.
Nine out of ten suffered from psychological stress. Many have reported increased irritability, sleep disturbances and night terrors, as well as emotional disturbances.
Researcher Serena Barello said normal work stress has been exacerbated by the increased workload, difficult working conditions and the multitude of unknowns about the virus.
This put their health “seriously at risk, not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically,” she added.
– The “Hero” label adds pressure –
In the UK – the second largest death toll in the United States – the only charity in the country offering mental health support to first responders is also announcing an impending crisis.
The Laura Hyde Foundation, created in memory of a nurse who committed suicide in 2016, said it had been inundated with calls from nurses, doctors and paramedics.
Last week, he launched a “No mask for mental health” campaign to raise awareness and support for the psychological impact of the epidemic.
“Healthcare workers everywhere have been truly touched by all the love they have received from the public,” said Jennifer Hawkins, clinical manager of the foundation.
“But the” hero “label can sometimes put them under even more pressure.
“The harsh reality of their work has a significant impact on mental health – and we must make sure that health professionals do not suffer in silence; Prescribe themselves what they would prescribe to others and ask for help, “said Hawkins. .
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