Medical Front liners Need Not To Be Called Heroes; They Need Emotional Stability By Giving Them Proper Support

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Michelle Nhat Ly T. Reyes, a third year Filipino medical student studying in Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation and president of AMSA FEU-NRMF, a local member organization of AMSA Philippines. She us affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

There is no doubt that the covid-19 pandemic affects everyone differently with evidence of direct and indirect social, physical, and mental health impact in society especially among healthcare workers.

The impact being the deaths of colleagues, friends, and family who are also in healthcare mirrors the fact that they are also vulnerable to such possibility. There is also presence of exhaustion, isolation from their family, and stigma from neighbors due to fear of contracting covid-19 from them. These are the factors that aggravate fear and anxiety among healthcare workers and their family.

According to the Department of Health Philippines, there are more than 750 health-care workers with confirmed cases of covid-19. This could be attributed to lack or delay of personal protective equipment, and lack of mass testing. The Philippines is slightly higher than the global average with 6.6% case fatality rate, and 21 doctors have already died. With each day passing – as the cases rise, there was also an increasing clamor for personal protective equipment and better hazard pay for all healthcare workers to alleviate the toll on minds of health workers by safeguarding them.

While it is too early to predict the profound mental health effects of covid-19, in a study published in JAMA, data reveals that among 1 257 healthcare workers working with COVID-19 patients in China, 50.4% reported symptoms of depression, 44.6% symptoms of anxiety, 34% insomnia, and 71.5% reported distress. It is true that the job of medical frontliners is to save lives, but who is going to save them?

With this news in mind, my fellow medical students and I formed a group that would call for donations to help procure PPEs and medical supplies, and contact details of institutions that provide mental health services. We had to act because we couldn’t just sit in our homes, knowing that hospitals are running low on supplies that could potentially endanger both healthcare workers and patients. These small actions from private citizens might seem commendable, however, it is infuriating that lives of doctors were unnecessarily lost so we had to demand proper and swift action from the government.

What kind of action should we be expecting for the mental health of our healthcare workers?

A multidisciplinary research suggests that for immediate actions, we should determine what psychological support is available to help healthcare workers and their families. This can lead to further understanding of their psychological, physiological, and structural needs. Some longer-term strategies we can look into is to determine the mechanisms that explain the rates of anxiety, and depression. We should also understand the role of psychological factors in buffering the effect of social context on mental health issues.

In hospitals around the world, healthcare workers are dedicating their time and lives to battle the pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people, including 397 in the Philippines. Although the fight is far from over, it is important to remember that mental health is just as vital as our physical in the time of Covid-19.

About the author

Michelle Nhat Ly T. Reyes is a third year Filipino medical student studying in Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation and president of AMSA FEU-NRMF, a local member organization of AMSA Philippines. She dedicates her time volunteering in medical missions and organizing events for social, health, and environmental causes. Recently, she is part of the committee that raises funds and procures PPEs and medical supplies for healthcare workers in Luzon Crisis Assistance Team and Wear Forward.

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