Demand soars for mental health support among healthcare workers

Matt Woodley

10/01/2022 5:10:36 PM

An online e-health hub for health professionals says the number of users accessing help has surged alongside Omicron cases.

Man wearing face mask staring.
Demand for mental health support among healthcare workers has risen as new COVID cases have increased.

The increased pressure being placed on already overstretched healthcare services following the unprecedented rise of the Omicron variant of concern appears to be taking a toll on Australia’s healthcare workers.
With more than 5300 COVID patients currently admitted to Australian hospitals, including 325 in intensive care, there are growing reports of doctors being pressured to not take sick leave or mental health days, despite some suffering severe burnout in the wake of the increased case load.
The need to furlough staff either exposed or infected with the virus has been exacerbated by a lack of access to testing, with the pressure contributing to The Essential Network for Health Professionals service – run by the Black Dog Institute – recording its highest user numbers in the past five months.
GPs and other primary care workers are also likely feeling the strain.
In addition to the combined booster and 5–11 COVID vaccine rollouts, general practice has also assumed responsibility for monitoring many of the 585,000 active cases in the community that do not currently require hospitalisation, while still continuing to provide all their other ‘business as usual’ care.
As recently as last week, RACGP President Dr Karen Price warned about the increased strain being placed on general practice and the need for more support.
‘There’s a huge cohort of COVID-positive patients in the community needing some degree of medical help and guidance,’ she said.
‘It puts an extraordinary burden on primary care and community healthcare.’
It is a position supported by TEN, which provides healthcare workers with access to free clinical care with a Black Dog Institute psychologist, evidence-based tools and resources, peer support and access to digital mental health programs.
‘Providing support for healthcare workers on the frontline to manage symptoms of mental illness and burnout is critical,’ a TEN release stated. 
‘Governments should respond accordingly to support population mental health if further increases in case numbers lead to widespread economic disruption.
‘Increasing availability and accessibility of rapid antigen tests will support people to return to work with confidence while PCR testing sites continue to struggle to cope with demand. Similarly, greater resourcing to make booster vaccines more readily available may also help with distress.’  
TEN’s report follows informal polling conducted by newsGP in 2021, which found that nearly half of all respondents (48%) to a survey question in May ranked ‘avoiding burnout’ as their main priority over the ensuing 12 months. Likewise, 38% of respondents to a later poll question reported that working as a GP during the pandemic had ‘greatly’ affected their mental health, while 34% said it ‘somewhat’ had, and 13% said it had led them to take time off work.
‘The pandemic has tipped us over,’ Melbourne GP and Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Psychological Medicine, Dr Cathy Andronis told newsGP when that poll’s results came out.
‘Adjusting to new numbers, adjusting to new ways of practising, adjusting to everybody’s distress, spending hours and hours reading the new COVID rules and having them change again and again to get to the stage where we are now, where we feel like we’re fighting people to get vaccinated.
‘It’s affecting us at a very personal level.’
GPs seeking mental health support are encouraged to access the following resources: 

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