Mental health experts are apprehensive about the psychological sequelae that may emerge in the wake of the pandemic among health-care workers.
June 5, 2020
Updated June 6, 2020 at 6h18
The distress that threatens the “guardian angels”
The nurse auxiliary felt very tired. Then, the headache, the cough and the fever have made him afraid of what a test would confirm : she had been infected by the COVID-19. Since a few weeks, Louise* saw cases of coronavirus multiply in the CHSLD in Quebec where she works. Residents died as a result. Colleagues were contaminated. Louise felt powerless over the spread of the virus.
And it is she who has been infected. “We see our state deteriorate and we wonder how it will end,” says Louise. […] My concern, it was : “I’m going to-you be obliged to be intubated?”” Four days later, the virus has reached his or her spouse. The couple had struggled to close the eye. “We were worried one of the other.”
The nurse is now cured. After two tests are negative, she returned to work. But psychological distress did not leave. “It’s still there,” says Louise.
Nicknamed the “guardian angels” by prime minister François Legault, honored by the sirens and klaxons of the police, and coddled by traders, health care workers continue to be put to the test by the crisis of the sars coronavirus.
Mental health experts are apprehensive about the psychological sequelae that may emerge in the wake of the pandemic. Exhaustion, impairment and depression post-traumatic stress disorder, in particular, are facing caregivers and managers.
Social worker at integrated Center for academic health and social services (CIUSSS) of the National Capital, Josiane Primeau is assigned to the line of listening and psychosocial support for health workers that has been implemented during the crisis. Up to now, more than 160 employees were called to ventilate.
“What we see, it is people who live some kind of distress, of anxiety, of sadness, sleep problems, loss of appetite, nightmares,” describes Ms. Primeau.
The health workers are afraid to be infected by the virus, or to contaminate their family. They are also undermined by the reorganization of work and family life. “There were panic attacks, who didn’t know how to handle it, who needed to express his concerns over what was happening,” says Josiane Primeau.
The distress is noticeable across Canada. According to a survey of the montreal-based firm Potloc in partnership with the canadian public health Association conducted in April, 67 % of canadian health care workers feel anxiety, 49% do not feel safe, 40 % feel overloaded, 29 % have lost hope, or 28 % are in lack of sleep, and 28% are discouraged.
However, “when one is in the heat of the action, we do not have the time to think about ourselves, and this is not necessarily encouraged to take care of yourself,” says Charles Morin, a professor in the School of psychology of Laval University. There are urgent needs to which we must respond. Often, it is necessary to present a facade that is tough, that it is able to cope with it”.
post-traumatic stress disorder
Despite the facade, many feel a great helplessness in the face of a pandemic. “This form of powerlessness can lead to downright depressive symptoms and, in the longer term, problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, said the professor Morin. Sometimes, it comes delayed.”
Weakened by the COVID-19, or the overload of work, more and more employees do not feel able to resume the job. “There are many who do not want to return. They are at home, they are afraid, they are worried. We still had one this week who said : “I am not able to have my time off, I resign”. The people are exhausted,” says Caroline Larochelle, of the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Capitale-Nationale (FIQ).
Health care workers who have seen patients die from the COVID-19, were afraid of being infected by the virus, or have contracted themselves are also likely to develop a disorder post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), note Geneviève Belleville, a professor at the School of psychology of Laval University.
After having been exposed to a traumatic event during the crisis of the COVID, health care workers can put themselves in nightmares, having intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, to become hypervigilant and feel that their mood is altered. These potential symptoms of PTSD are associated with a difficulty to “digest” the traumatic event, ” explains Ms Belleville.
More generally, Geneviève Belleville suggests to health workers that are facing the crisis of the COVID-19 to regularly take their temperature to psychological. When it becomes difficult to experience positive emotions, it is usually a sign that it’s not going to, she notes.
“To be able to laugh in his day, to be able to have meaningful contacts with important people, to be able to experience moments of joy despite everything and when one loses it, one has a fever and the psychological,” said Ms. Belleville.
* The real name Louise has been changed to protect her identity