World Mental Health Day: As COVID-19 takes a toll on everyone, how have doctors kept themselves together
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the importance of mental health. The fear of the infectious disease, initial lockdowns, work of home led isolation, economic crises, job losses, and the grief of losing loved ones have played havoc on the minds of the people.
Doctors have been tirelessly working to save people. While some are working to save COVID-19 affected patients in isolated wards, others are ensuring that other medical needs are met too.
All this while dealing with numerous losses of life on a regular basis, working in a highly stressed environment, inadequate medical infrastructure, and staying away from their own family to treat and save people.
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While we are largely dependent on our doctors to help us navigate our struggles and heal ourselves, what about the doctors themselves? Like anybody else, they too are vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health-related struggles.
On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, observed to raise awareness about mental health-related issues, YourStory tries to understand the mental struggles of the doctors and how they deal with them.
Doctors unanimously explained it is very important for them to maintain their physical and mental health to be able to treat patients properly. In order to do this, it is crucial to have a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet, have adequate sleep, and also consult with their colleagues.
Speaking to YourStory, these doctors offered a perspective on how the pandemic affected them and how they maintain their mental health.
(Answers have been edited for clarity.)
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Dr Leenu Gupta, Consultant Neurologist at Deep Hospital, Ludhiana
As a neurologist, I see patients with severe depression and other mental disorders that are at their extreme stages. Post-pandemic, there has been a visible surge in such severe cases.
While most people, especially the younger individuals were going through mental breakdowns due to job losses, bereavements in families, changes in the workplace environments, and other reasons, it was equally hard for doctors to treat these patients. It consumed a lot of emotional bandwidth in a very short period of time.
While the pandemic was at its peak, the best way for me to deal with gloominess was by talking to my colleagues, since most of us shared the objective.
On a personal level, meditation and walking, accompanied by other lifestyle changes like deep breathing exercises helped me a lot. Additionally, as doctors, we consume more fluids and frequent meals in smaller portions to stay agile.
Dr Sheela Chakravarthy, Director - Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the physical and mental health of doctors as we have long hours of calls, uncertainty about the outcomes of COVID-19 in the initial days, understanding the disease, looking at long term complications and issues that comes with the virus, and reducing the apprehension of patients who have gotten frightened by the news published in media.
With all these in the background and the COVID pandemic being new, the general public has been worried about the illness and the impact of the virus looking at the information available on the internet, especially social media.
Some people tend to consider the internet as their doctor, which at most times gives out wrong information, in a way affecting the diagnosis. This added to the stress of doctors during the pandemic.
Doctors have maintained their mental and physical well-being during this time in the form of regular exercise like yoga, getting rest after a hard day’s work, have conversations with loved ones in order to relax etc. After continuous teleconsultations, doctors are exhausted and are in no condition to carry on a normal personal life.
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Dr Srinivasa Prasad B V, Consultant - Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru
During the pandemic, there was not only physical burnout for doctors due to the workload but also mental distress being surrounded by suffering patients. The fear and grief of losing the battle of saving lives affect the mental well-being of doctors.
Doctors are also human beings. We reach out to our mental health colleagues to seek help when it's beyond control. Speaking to friends and family members also helps to unwind and relax. Compassionate hospital management and the compassionate public also helped to reduce our stress.
The best de-stressor for any doctor is appreciative feedback from their patients and their relatives. Maintaining balanced mental health is quite critical. Otherwise, an uninterested physician or stressed-out physician will not be able to give his/her undivided attention to patients and thus can cause medical errors.
Some of the practices that can promote mental well-being are
- Self-care strategies: Taking that break, even if it's for only 2 minutes, particularly after encountering a tough patient case or after doing a complex and stressful surgery will help
- Stay connected with your support system — family and friends
- Taking things one day at a time
- Playing, listening to music, yoga, meditation, or any activity that can divert the mind away from professional stress
- Checking on the previous positive feedback of patients to have a sense of accomplishment
- Talking to team members and involving them to reduce the stress of the entire team.
Dr Raghu Nagaraj, Senior Consultant, Orthopedics and Bone & Joint Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bengaluru
The pandemic has indeed brought in a lot of stress for all specialities of the doctor community. In orthopaedics, even though we don’t deal with COVID-19 patients directly, the risk of treating each patient is there as each patient could be a potential carrier. We need to get in close contact with the patients while examining, operating, or talking to them.
There are situations when we need to operate on COVID-19 positive patients in emergency cases. All these risk factors have brought in a lot of stress, and doctors are worried about contracting the infection and spreading the same to their families. Being doctors, we do not have the option of working from home like other professionals.
The best way for any doctor to deal with such stress is to follow all the safety protocols during the treatment of any patient. All hospital management should also support doctors in arranging the safety measures. This will help in the mental and physical well-being of doctors.
Doctors should engage themselves in activities like meditation, yoga, talking to the family regularly, and a good amount of physical workouts. They should also have a good social circle and supportive team members to help and discuss all matters of concern.
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