Front line health care workers the world over are starting to receive recognition for their integral role in the fight against COVID-19.

On 14th February I attended my first in a series of Webinars themed COVID-19 And Mental Health.

This was the second one the able team was holding and I was privileged to attend it for how timely the conversation was.

Webinar 2 was on Supporting the Mental Health of Front line Health Workers.

First of all, some background

Who planned these series?

It was an interesting partnership between United for Global Mental Health, Mental Health Innovation Network and The Lancet Psychiatry.

How did I learn about it?

You wouldn’t believe, it was through one of the numerous links that are shared through social media.  I am truly grateful I clicked on the Link.

On this day, the conversation was on what organizations were already doing and what more needed to be done towards supporting front line healthcare workers (HCWs) on mental health matters.

front line health care workers

Some three challenges I picked.

1.         Fear and Shame. HCWs on the front lines are afraid of contracting the virus and infecting their family members and are also afraid of dying.  They are also afraid of ramifications should they seek mental health support and have concerns about losing their jobs, their seeking of mental health support affecting their jobs and also have concerns about confidentiality. They also feel shame and guilt from ethical dilemmas that come up as they provide care. 

2.         The HCWs are not a homogeneous group as they have medical students who are just starting out with their careers, residents specializing in different fields, consultants that have just began their practices and other who have been working for 20 years +. As such, these dynamics must be considered when coming up with mental health care interventions.

3.         It was sadly noted that self care was not a priority for health care workers as they operate constantly on the move and are in constant action mode.

Insights on Working interventions for front line healthcare workers

In Madrid, Spain specifically at the University Hospital of La Paz , the mental health professionals had come up with 5-10 minute mindfulness interventions that focused on training emotions, cultivating an inner space of calm, focused attention and an attitude of compassion. Facing challenges in getting the healthcare workers to slow down, the team decided to work with their reality and equip their healthcare workers with some simple yet practical techniques to exercise self-care in very few minutes.

In Bangladesh and Egypt, the Humanitarian effort had focused on pre, during and post assignment orientation.They assessed risk, offered Psychological First Aid and later encouraged the HCWs to practice self –care and  mindfulness.

In Hong Kong, China they created materials to inform, educate and communicate which helped alleviate internal struggle for HCWs and showed them care, concern and support.

Leadership in the Healthcare Industry must take time to set up systems to provide peer support to HCWs and spaces to discuss ethical dilemmas without judgement.

My takeaways

1.         Learn from those ahead and prepare. We must listen to those who have hindsight as their advantage and avoid the pitfalls that they didn’t.

2.         We all have a role to play to support HCWs in the front lines. This is because when their mental health is affected, then their ability to offer the expected high quality standard of care is also compromised.

3.          Let us work with our reality. We may not have adequate time to take HCWs through Therapy and so must adapt to equip them with the skills, tools and techniques to take care of themselves as best we can.

What are you doing to offer support to HCWs in your space?

Would you love to sign up for other webinars on this series?

Or help a health care worker receive low cost online therapy?

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