He smiled after a month. He has been working like a zombie. He will not admit it, but I am sure he is under a lot of stress seeing so many patients. A couple of times, I have seen him pop a sleeping pill,” says Meena Raghav*, about her son who is a Resident Doctor at an eminent government hospital in the city. Raghav’s not a lone case.
The morbidity and mortality associated with Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on the mental health of healthcare workers (HCWs) across different disciplines. Even otherwise, doctors experience high levels of stress, but fearing stigma they don’t talk about it.But now help is at hand. The Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO) in association with Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) has launched a Mental Health Helpline for HCWs facing mental health issues. Apart from offering advice, and individual sessions and referrals, peer support sessions will be made available.
“There has been an exponential rise in the cases of anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression amongst healthcare and frontline workers. We hope this helpline will ameliorate the stress and challenges that HCW’s are facing amidst this unprecedented crisis,” says Dr Prathap C Reddy, Founder President, GAPIO and Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group. Assuring all help needed to restore the mental health of HCWs to a level that existed before the pandemic, IPS president Dr Gautam Saha says that the helpline will offer free online services to medical and allied HCWs. “As per the telemedicine laws, we will only offer counselling sessions, not prescribe medicines online. But in case someone needs medication – which is likely considering the pandemic – we will refer a good psychiatrist for in-person consultation,” says IPS vice-president Dr NN Raju.
“This helpline is a very basic tool for the immediate crisis situation handling. It’s like CPR for gasping patients, life-saving at times. A conflict always arouses emotional turmoil — seen in the form of anger — if it is turned outside, then the person becomes aggressive, violent and if expressed to self — internalised — then suicidal ideation, thoughts happen. So these helplines are good in diffusing the complex emotional impulses,” says Dr Manu Tiwari, HOD and senior consultant, Fortis Hospital, Noida, adding that Indian Psychiatry Society, Fortis has been undertaking a survey on ‘Covid19 Neuropsychiatric Manifestations and the Coping Strategies’ for quite some time now.
“At the peak of the second wave, we faced many critical cases. Once we had two patients, one 62, with oxygen saturation of 88 and another 26 with oxygen saturation of 65. After much deliberation we decided to give bed to the younger guy, thinking we’ll be able to save both. Unfortunately we lost both. That really hit us bad. My colleague went into depression. I too was under a lot of stress,” says Dr Abrar Ahmed Anwar. “This helpline is a welcome step, surely many would be helped, especially the nurses and ward boys. They are the people who run hospitals, provide 24X7 care to patients and hence are affected the most,” he adds.
Medical bodies that have supported this initiative include the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Canadian Association of Physicians of Indian Heritage, Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association, British Indian Psychiatric Association.Chennai United, a not for profit initiative, is providing the helpline number with volunteers for receiving calls from healthcare workers. Healthcare Workers can visit https://chennaiunited.org/helpline/ and enter their request. An alternative helpline number (7292018816) takes requests in English, Hindi and Tamil.
(*Name changed to protect identity)