PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is well known as a common issue among people returning from war zones, or who have been exposed to significant trauma during natural disasters.
It is now becoming clear that after a year of fighting the Covid-19 virus, physicians, nurses, first responders and other medical staff around the globe are experiencing burnout. Endless days of dealing with large numbers of very sick people, many of whom die in distress, alone and without family to support them, are taking a worrying toll. Lack of resources, lack of equipment as basic as PPE and oxygen, have all contributed to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Symptoms for Health Care Professionals
Symptoms of PTSD can range from tearfulness and the inability to sleep, all the way through to mental breakdown and suicide. In the UK the incidence of PTSD is reported to be as high as 71%, with 35% of healthcare workers showing high stress levels; a worrying statistic in the face of a pandemic that is likely to be with us for some time to come. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7645025/)
Particularly at risk are women health care workers and nurses. Nurses especially get close to patients and fight alongside them, sometimes for months. When the fight ends in death, it is hard not to take it personally. This, coupled with the unusual circumstance that family and friends are often unable to be with a very sick patient, relieving some of the emotional burdens on the medical staff, means that high numbers of medical staff can be expected to have both short and long term resulting mental health issues.
Acute stress and anxiety can be mitigated to some extent by the use of support groups and immediately available therapy and counselling. Hospital chaplains have proved particularly valuable in this respect, but they too are suffering from the same mental health issues as they work with patients, relatives, medical, and first response staff.
The Need for Help
Health authorities worldwide should be prepared to provide ongoing, long-term support for the large numbers of health and frontline workers who are currently affected with PTSD, and who will be affected in the future in worryingly high numbers.