WITH THE coronavirus pandemic in its seventh month, city-based psychiatrists say they are already burnt out with the sheer load of counselling not just patients but an increasing number of healthcare workers.
“Earlier, we were only counselling mentally ill patients. Now, along with those patients, we are counselling Covid-19 patients, and the doctors and nurses treating them,” Dr Ram Chandra, from the psychiatry department of JJ hospital said.
Chandra, who is posted at St George’s hospital’s Covid-19 ward, also consults his own colleagues suffering from mental health issues. “We have formed groups. Any resident doctor, who tests positive for Covid-19, is reached out and counselled for anxiety and stress. We are overwhelmed, but we talk to each other to address our own problems,” he said on the eve of World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10 every year with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.
There is no mechanism to handle our own stress. So, we are trying to find our own way,” said another psychiatrist from JJ hospital.
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown different kinds of problems – while some doctors miss their family members and just need other colleagues to talk to, some suffer from the constant worry of contracting the infection.
Psychiatry is already an “overwhelming profession”, psychiatrist Dr Avinash D’Souza said. “But this pandemic has put additional stress. Every week I am seeing at least 2-3 doctors suffering from stress and anxiety. It is important for us to take breaks, so I sometimes take a day off to allow myself to heal.”
Dr Shubhangi Parkar, former head of psychiatry department in KEM and now an independent consultant, said she started doing yoga and pranayama since the pandemic began. “I am advising everyone to eat good food and sleep for at least eight hours.”
Parkar added the reasons for stress vary. “Some doctors are worried about their elderly parents, some for their children, and some are unable to cope with the daily grind of the pandemic.”
Dr Gunjan Chanchalani, the head intensivist at Bhatia hospital, who contracted the infection in September, has a young child. She initially battled a constant fear for several months of bringing home the infection to her family. When she did contract Covid-19 and was admitted in ICU, she said she “would get panic attacks”.
“Although I know about this disease, to lie on a hospital bed and not see a human skin for days can have a strong impact. It felt like I was looking at aliens in suits,” she said. Chanchalani re-joined duty after she recovered. Now, Bhatia hospital staffers gather every few days to felicitate some staffers to motivate them. “We realised we need to change our surroundings. So, we (doctors) take turns to go out of the city on weekends for a break,” she added.
But not everyone can afford breaks. At KEM hospital, resident doctors say their workload has increased ever since the routine out-patient department reopened.
Dr Santosh Shetty, executive director at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani hospital, said they are now regularly organising online group therapy and individual counselling sessions for their doctors to help them cope with the constant stress due to the pandemic. Even at SL Raheja hospital, personal counselling is offered to doctors who show symptoms of depression and anxiety.
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