Picture: Guillem Sartorio AFP
Picture: Guillem Sartorio AFP

Healthcare workers could face repeated trauma and burnout in third wave

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Mar 17, 2021

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DURBAN: As South Africa anticipates its third Covid-19 wave, experts say it is important for health workers to be mentally prepared and resourced, as repeated trauma and stress could lead to burn-out.

An expert panel of psychiatrists revealed this during an online webinar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday.

Specialist psychiatrist Dr Peter Milligan said health-care workers could face serious burn-out or mental health illnesses if symptoms are undetected or left untreated and it could erode professional behaviour at work and relationships at home.

“We don’t yet know the timing or dimensions of the third wave, but there’s no question that repeated trauma has consequences, and so does repeated stress in this way have consequences. Perhaps each time we are a bit better prepared and resourced, but I think that we need to keep up the work in terms of mental preparedness,” he said.

Many healthcare workers have been experiencing high levels of anxiety, depression and grief during the pandemic.

According to psychiatrist at the King DinuZulu Psychiatric Hospital and specialist lecturer Dr Saeeda Paruk, burn-out is a psychological syndrome in response to chronic stress at the workplace.

The three main symptoms of burn-out include emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and a loss of perspective that work is still meaningful.

International research has shown that around 40% of health-care workers have experienced burn-out during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, doctors and support staff.

“Burn-out has always been highly prevalent in South Africa and during the Covid-19 pandemic, surveys have reported an even higher rate of 40%. Someone who experiences burn-out develops emotional and physical fatigue, negative feelings about their job, feelings of detachment and incompetence,” she said.

During the pandemic, health-care workers have had high workloads and have been exposed to multiple psychosocial stressors.

Psychiatrist and co-ordinator of the KZN branch of the Healthcare Workers Care Network, Dr Suvira Ramlall said there were unacceptably high levels of stress among health-care workers.

The Healthcare Workers Care Network aims to offer all health-care workers in need four free individual counselling sessions through online, telephonic or telehealth platforms where possible during the Covid-19 restrictions, across the public and private sectors.

The support team is made up of qualified professionals including psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who volunteered to support health-care workers and personnel with skills to alleviate fears and manage stresses around Covid-19 through free, online or telephonic counselling sessions.

Ramlall said since it’s launch, they had received over 1 000 calls, 200 SMSes and over 4 500 people had attended their training sessions.

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