Among health care professionals, the coronavirus crisis has been hit hard and will leave a legacy. In the coming weeks, some of them may even develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress, usually affecting soldiers and even victims of attacks.
In the front line against the coronavirus pandemic, doctors, nurses and caregivers are particularly prone to stress and anxiety. Interviewed by France 24, Bernard Astruc, psychiatrist and mental health specialist, expects healthcare providers to develop symptoms of “post-traumatic stress disorder” in the coming weeks or months.
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According to him, “caregivers are often the first and sometimes the only people in our communities to see people die”. That is why their mental health can be threatened.
“A caregiver […] who have been able to observe signs of Covid-19 on themselves can, surrounded by dozens of people who die, develop what is called post-traumatic stress disorder, the main syndrome observed in these cases, “explains the psychiatrist. Usually, this disorder occurs in people” who lived the war or the attacks, “specifies Bernard Astruc.
“I wish it was just a dream”
A caregiver in north-east England, Steve, who contracted Covid-19 two months ago, is one of the caregivers at risk. Healed, he tells of the anxiety of infecting his children.
“When I came back to work I couldn’t sleep well, I was worried about the risk of getting the virus home and catching it again,” he told AFP.
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“I had never imagined having to work on the front line during a pandemic. I wish it was just a dream and that when I woke up, the world would return to what it was like,” he added.
For Xavier Noël, an expert on mental health issues at the Free University of Brussels, “we have all the ingredients for a high risk of post-traumatic stress”.
Nightmares, flashbacks and Escape Reactions
Post-traumatic stress can manifest as “memories […] recurring and intrusive “and” a kind of state of hyper-vigilance “that pressures to” be on alert permanently, “details psychiatrist Bernard Astruc, who adds that the symptoms may vary depending on the patients.
They may also have “sleep disorders”, such as “nightmares” and “escape and fear reactions”. Symptoms that, according to Bernard Astruc, “can really change the quality of life”.
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Although, the psychiatrist emphasizes, “it is still too early to say what proportion [de soignants] was “affected” by this syndrome, recent studies already provide an overview of trauma affecting caregivers mobilized during the pandemic.
In Italy, stress was detected in nine out of ten caregivers
One of these studies, conducted in early May among 3,300 Dutch-speaking caregivers in Belgium, shows that 15% of them often dream of “leaving the profession” compared to 6% in normal times.
Another, conducted by the University of Madrid, found that more than half (51%) of the 1,200 caregivers interviewed had “depressive symptoms”. Another eloquent figure: 53% presented signs “compatible with post-traumatic stress”.
The Catholic University of Sacred Heart of Milan has also discovered that seven out of ten health care professionals in the most affected regions of Italy suffer from fatigue, nine out of ten from stress.
According to researcher Serena Barello, the usual work stress has been exacerbated by the increased workload, “which seriously jeopardizes their health, not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically”.
Cascading conversations in associations
For their part, the specialized associations have noted an increase in requests from health care providers.
In France, the Association for the Care of Caregivers declares that it receives more than 70 calls per day, compared to five in normal times. Some of them testified to a “risk of taking the imminent action”.
On the other side of the channel, in the UK, the second most affected country after the United States in the number of deaths, Laura Hyde, an association that provides psychological support, also explains that she was redundant by calls.
“Healthcare workers everywhere have really been touched by all the love they have received from the public,” said Jennifer Hawkins, one of the founders of this fate. 2016. “But the hero label can sometimes cause additional pressure”.
“A superman does not go to the doctor”
“The harsh reality of their work has important implications for mental health,” she warns. “Healthcare professionals should not suffer in silence, prescribe what they would prescribe to others, and ask for help.”
An analysis shared by Bernard Astruc, who encourages caregivers to consult with signs of anxiety and stress.
“One of the features of this disorder [l’état de stress post-traumatique]is that people stay at home and do not consult. This is even more true among health care providers, “he explains.” Finally, the hero is one who will not ask for help. A superman does not go to the doctor, “illustrates the psychiatrist.
What management can be considered for these caregivers? “We can use drugs but also psychotherapy,” says Bernard Astruc. He takes the example of EMDR, “a desensitization therapy that allows information to be worked up,” according to the psychiatrist.
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The doctor also emphasizes the importance of prevention: it will encourage caregivers in need to seek help. “It can be quite relevant to offer psychological listening lines, for example,” adds Bernard Astruc, who has created this service in his own medical telecommunications platform, Eutelmed.
“This makes it possible to carry out initial maintenance of descaling, to focus on a customized treatment and to prevent,” he suggests.
Valuable help for these caregivers, when the epidemic is not yet over, according to the authors of the study from the University of Madrid, Lourdes Luceno Moreno and Jesus Martin Garcia: “An urgent psychological intervention is necessary for this group if a very dreaded second wave materializes.” they warn, “we will see emotionally damaged professionals and a health system without response capabilities.”