Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
Psychologist/Immediate Past President (TTAP)
The recent spike in the coronavirus cases in our country has also led to an increase in calls to the CIT hotline (Crisis Intervention team, TT Association of Psychologists)—but this time from persons who have been on the frontline of this battle—our nurses. These are the persons who continue to place their lives, and that of their families, in the line of ‘fire’ as they face and interact daily with those persons affected by the coronavirus. Nurses continue to face a potential risk of infection as well as work-related anxiety and mental health problems associated with this invisible and highly contagious new disease.
From the calls that we have gotten, many have expressed that they do not feel safe; rather, they believe that their safety and that of their colleagues is compromised. What are the statistics, if any, on the infection rates of our healthcare workers? Is this important? Around the world, some governments are recording the number of infections and deaths among healthcare staff so that needed measures are taken to protect nurses and doctors from contracting the deadly virus. These reports also include incidents of psychological, sexual, and physical violence against healthcare workers (ICN-International Council of Nurses) so that Dr Vanessa Harry’s article on ‘Discrimination against doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic’ (Trinidadian Guardian, Wednesday, September 2) is to be commended as she also sought to highlight an issue that many persons are not aware of—that of stigmatisation and discrimination against healthcare workers in this society.
In a recent report, ICN’s Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton stated: “Nursing is looking like one of the most dangerous jobs in the world at the moment. We need to get this data for every country. Only then will we be able to learn how best to keep our nurses safe.” He sees the need to limit the possibility of infection in hospitals and to make use of innovative measures such as the use of technological devices which allow nurses to monitor a patient’s condition remotely. Without having to enter patients’ rooms, they can measure their temperature and other vital signs. A first necessary step, however, is to ensure that these healthcare providers are fully protected by adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) to prevent them from becoming infected.
The associated mental health issues are not to be trivialised. As callers have stated, there are nurses who are refusing to work, or who have taken extended sick leave because of the perceived dangers of the job. Telling them that they have chosen this profession and that it is their duty to comply with the demands of the job, is both insensitive and inhumane. It is a welcoming sign, therefore, that some hospital managers have recognised these mental and emotional effects and have encouraged their nurses to call the Hotline when they are overwhelmed or are having anxiety or panic attacks or just need to talk so that they learn how to cope.
What is needed is perhaps a unified approach in these health institutions as healthcare workers thrive better if they feel that they are supported and appreciated by the public and by their administration. Offer psychological and emotional support. Call our numbers if you need help or go on to our website at www.psychologytt.org and press the RED button. Provide webinars and online sessions for nurses so that they can be informed of best practices to help their patients and themselves. In these groups, they can share the lessons they have learned– knowing that others share similar physical, mental and emotional experiences such as anxiety-related issues can help in supporting each other in the midst of this pandemic. If you are resilient, you are better able to take care of yourself and the needs of your families. Be safe.