How Health Professionals Working On The Front Line To Fight Covid-19 Pandemic Are Keeping Their Mental Health?

“If we’re not feeling well, we won’t be able to take care, properly, of those in need”, says the nurse Andréa Moraes do Nascimento.

Because of the pandemic, caused by the emergence of the new Coronavirus, the humanity is now facing a new conjuncture surrounded by vulnerability; and, frequently, showing lack of structure and preparation, during this scenario. Therefore, the complications on the health area are presented, symbolizing considerable difficulties for those who work, and live with this reality. 

So, in order to avoid, or at least minimize, a possible health collapse, several countries adopted preventive measures, such as social isolation and the mandatory use of masks. The intentions of this actions are to slow down the contagion curve of the disease, so the health organizations can have a major control over the virus. Meanwhile, the lack of resources, among the social negligence within the severity of the current context, have became an obstacle to the work of health agents around the globe.

The Price Of Mental Health

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The lack of structure and the social negligence can be understood as a viability to the bad conditions at work for the health professionals fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, which can be responsible for putting either the physical or mental health of them in danger.

According to Ana Paula Todaro, psychologist with a Phd in social psychology from the Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and professor at the psychology course of the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), in order to regard the mental health of those specialists, is necessary to provide good work conditions, such as protection and training.

“By taking care of this instances, is provided, to those individuals, the possibility of dealing with this context in a healthy way”, she explains. “This is a fundamental health potential that the worker should have guaranteed”, says Ana Paula.

According to the nurse, Andréa Moraes do Nascimento, that attends to the hospital Samer, in the city of Resende, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the neglect shown by some people, about health and welfare of the population, can be considered as one of the biggests problems faced by the health professionals during the pandemic.

“In my opinion, people do not want to, or maybe can not, understand, clearly, the situation”, she says and also complements that, the frequency of this events makes those specialists extremely unmotivated, ... We work very hard, but sometimes it seems as if all this effort meant nothing”.

For the physiotherapist Gustavo Ferreira Cotrim, that also attends at the hospital Samer, the misinformation contributes, in a significant way, to compromise the mental health. He also points out that, during moments like this, it’s important that this health professionals do not forget that they are human beings, “As any other human being, he [the professional] is also afraid of taking this disease home”.

Cotrim also believes that psychological capacity is essential for doing a good job, either from those who work on the front line to fight the new Coronavirus, to the others health professionals that kept working hard.

Psychological Impairment Through The Pandemic

There are doctors standing in the hallway of a hospital.However, even with the indications and preventive measures pointed by several health organizations, a large portion of the world population still has difficulty in complying to them. According to the psychologist, Ana Paula, this is due to the phenomenon of denial, a defense mechanism developed by individuals in extreme moments, so that they can face fear.

“Unfortunately, something has to happen to break this defense. That is why raising awareness is so difficult”, she explains.

Because of that, fear and insecurity have become common feelings among professionals in this area, who, exposed to this reality, fear for their health. Thus, the psychologist affirms that the development of mental disorders, such as anxiety, insomnia and loneliness, becomes something quite recurrent among these professionals. And, in addition, it also says that they can even create an emotional heritage based on everything they are living now and then evolve, after the pandemic, to a Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to Ana Paula, in addition to disorders, these health specialists also express intense feelings, such as fear, suffering and despair. 

“It is no use to encourage a professional who claims to be exposed and, consequently, exposing its family every day”, the specialist explains.

In this context, the negligence regarding the mental health and well-being of these workers, by the society, strongly resents them. The specialists, in turn, claim that the applause from the windows and balconies becomes hypocrisy due to the population's inconsequential attitudes towards the preventive measures.

Brazil Already Started Behind

The lack of resources and basic preparations in the face of the current situation, however, is a sad reality in several countries. Therefore, in addition to fighting disinformation and neglect, many professionals also deal with the lack of working conditions and, consequently, with a catastrophic crisis in the health system.

In the Brazilian context, for example, the concerning fragility in health generated by Covid-19, among the precariousness in the work environment, concretize  the psychological instability, mainly of doctors and nurses, leaving them at the mercy of a uncertain scenario. For Andréa, both gratification and fear are constant sensations experienced by these specialists on a daily basis.

"There is a mixture of feelings that range from the pleasure of taking care to the fear of not being able to protect yourself and your loved ones”, says the nurse.

So, due to the health crisis that already exists in Brazilian society, the arrival of Covid-19 in the country worries the population, who questioned the State's capacity to address their needs in the midst of the pandemic. This way, the psychologist Ana Paula explains, based on her master's degree in public administration, that the lack of a good health system and the government's disregard for that, are extremely harmful to the psychological of those who work in this extreme environment exposure.

“This [the lack of a good health system] is something that has always existed”, she reports. "I can't say if there was ever a time when these professionals, especially in the public sector, had favorable conditions to work".

In Brazil, professionals, strongly, question the lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and claim that many are the ones who take care of their own safety; such as the use of homemade masks, even when treating symptomatic patients, for example. In the opinion of the physiotherapist, the lack of governmental investments for a decent work in the institutions compromises the mental health of those who work in this environment.

“I believe that all this strongly affects the psychological issue of these professionals; mainly because it generates a huge insecurity”.

Mental Health Care

The psychologist reinforces the importance of qualified listening in the pandemic period, and, above all, for those who act on the front lines to fight the new Coronavirus: "Qualified listening is a measure of emergency care, being an immediate therapeutic tool".

Ana Paula continues to reinforce that the best way to ensure the mental health of these specialists is through the guarantee of good working conditions; being a governmental responsibility, as to regards the provision of necessary resources and equipment, as well as a social one, as to the compliance with the sanitary measures imposed by the health agencies.

"If we are not well, we will not be able to properly care for those who need it.”, the nurse at the Samer hospital says.

To Health Professionals

To those who perform a great job in the midst of the chaotic world context, the nurse, Andréa Moraes, makes an appeal, "Be cautious, think that this will pass and after that we will have to be well and prepared". The physiotherapist, Gustavo Cotrim, in the meantime, asks the professionals to believe in their potentials, and states that "We are capable of overcoming this scenario".