IN the past year, I have never seen so many burned out healthcare workers. More than half have experienced high levels of burnout. Others report complete emotional fatigue/exhaustion.
Since December, 2019, Covid-19 has rapidly spread across the world. We have never witnessed such a tsunami of mental health presentations of high levels of panic and anxiety.
Burn-out is a state of psychological, emotional and physical stress in response to prolonged occupational stress. It presents as depersonalisation, cynicism, and negative self-evaluation.
Staff in all departments have described feelings of stress, exacerbated by arduous work conditions with little support apart from short-term EAP counselling.
The results of such burnout leads to poor physical and mental health outcome, insomnia, poorer motivation and low morale and high levels of absenteeism and early retirement.
A significant percentage of patients I have seen in clinic and in the hospital reported symptoms of depression, anxiety and severe distress. For many they resorted to both anti-depressants and anxiolytic medication.
In Ireland as in some other countries the fear of becoming infected, restricted social contact and in the beginning a shortage of PPE were the primary concerns reported.
Across the hospitals here in Ireland we have seen significant resignations and early retirement of both physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.
Burnout is caused by an inability to meet the never ending demands of an excessive and prolonged stressful work environment. Burnout develops gradually but its important to learn to spot the signs and deal with them as early as possible. Burnout is often masked as depression. Depression is just one symptom of burnout.
When we are stressed, we learn to cope despite an ongoing feeling of being overwhelmed. When we burnout there is real exhaustion and more longer than physical and emotional symptomology that is not irreversible.
Patients attending my clinic described a sense of “feeling stuck”, isolated and helpless with a total inability to play an active role in their own recovery.
Hospitals and health care centres have workers who report a large amount of job dissatisfaction within a very high-pressured environment. Often expectations and the role of the health care workers is unclear with poor boundaries and unrealistic expectations.
Today, when I rang my GP to get a repeat prescription for a family member, the first line of the message was that the staff were no longer accepting abusive communication from patients. This begs the questions for so many dedicated professionals who have no choice but to protect their staff.
Health Care Professionals have confided that they are not sleeping well, eating poorly and have no time to self-care or even go for a short walk to clear their head.
So many have had to present to their own GP’s with headaches, poorer immunity, short term memory difficulties, poor control of emotions, inability to enjoy the hobbies that once energized us, and a real sense of failure and poor self-esteem.
So what can we do to address this fallout from the pandemic. Burnout can be reversed with appropriate psychological support by learning to get the basics right and find time for appropriate self-care. It may be necessary to discuss how you feel with your line manager. Practising mindfulness, meditation can go a long way to prevent burnout. CBT helps to put our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in perspective. By identifying the negative automatic thoughts we can begin to reframe our cognitive thought process taking an evidence based approach.
Once you are prepared to put the necessary lifestyle changes in place to restore good mental health, in time, you will make better choices to allow yourself to continue to work in such stressful environments be it as a nurse, doctor, social worker, psychologist, social care worker, hospital porter etc…
There are supports you can seek out through your HR which can put work place solutions in place by you taking that first step towards acknowledging your difficulties, and learn to safely navigate so many interactions of a stressful nature.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. G. Moore Groarke Consultant/Chartered Psychologist Bon Secours hospital & Harley Court Medical Centre, Wilton, Cork.