‘We can only soak up so much before it starts to affect us’

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

7/05/2020 3:59:39 PM

A new e-mental health hub will connect frontline healthcare workers with services to cope with the stress of the ongoing pandemic.

Healthcare worker wearing PPE
'Doctors are no different from anybody else – it’s pretty vital that they’re connected to support,’ Dr Cathy Andronis said.

‘We need to keep fighting the stigma. There is no shame in reaching out and seeking help if you have concerns about your mental health.’
That is GP and RACGP spokesperson Dr Genevieve Yates.
Recognising the enormous pressure on GPs helping to combat COVID-19, Dr Yates has been a strong advocate of the online health hub, The Essential Network (TEN), launched by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on 7 May.
‘The stresses they have been under are real and absolute; obviously there’s the stresses and the risk of their own health but, above all else, the care and concern for their patients,’ Minister Hunt said.
Developed by the Black Dog Institute as part of a $3 million mental health support program for frontline health workers, TEN will connect practitioners with critical mental health and wellbeing services to better cope with the stress of the pandemic.
‘This is something that the RACGP has been fighting strongly for and it will make a real difference,’ Dr Yates said.
‘Mental health is complex, there are many underlying causes and no one-size-fits-all explanation for every person. However, I will say that many healthcare workers, including GPs, have been put under enormous pressure on the frontline combating COVID-19.
‘Some have had abuse directed at them from patients and, of course, there is always the increased prospect of contracting the virus themselves in a clinical environment.’
Dr Cathy Andronis, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Psychological Medicine network, believes GPs need as much support as they can get.
‘Doctors are no different from anybody else – it’s pretty vital that they’re connected to support,’ she told newsGP.
‘They are confined to their rooms much more with telehealth, and when doctors are working in clinics people are keeping to themselves a lot more because there’s less meeting time, less meeting in the tea rooms and in the corridors.
‘That’s a poor environment to work with because we really need to have collegiality, we need supportive colleagues, [and] we need to be able to connect over problems that are arising in our practice.’
In navigating the transition to telehealth, a number of GP practice owners are having to deal with financial pressures due to revenue loss, while also being mindful to support anxious reception and allied health staff.
There are concerns of poor mental health being a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. Dr Andronis says that, in many ways, GPs are more vulnerable, and if they do not access the necessary support that it could result in a greater rate of burnout, resulting in feelings of overwhelm and a reduction in hours.
‘We’re seeing so many more mentally unwell people, a lot more anxiety and depression in the community, so we become traumatised vicariously much more easily,’ she said.
‘We can only soak up so much before it starts to affect us personally.
‘Doctors have the stresses of the whole community in the background, while at the same time having to do their work in an uncertain environment, and we’re just sort of soldiering on.
‘So the opportunity to have somewhere where you can go to access some support is going to be really helpful.’
Dr Yates emphasised the importance of GPs reaching out for support when they need it, ensuring they utilise available supports such as the e-health hub.
‘As a college, we are very concerned with the mental health effects of this unfolding pandemic and will do whatever we can to support timely and effective care being delivered, both to health practitioners and the community generally,’ she said.
‘I can’t stress this enough: if you need to talk to someone please reach out and take advantage of this service because it could make all the difference. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help; many people have gone through what you are experiencing and have come out the other side.
‘Spread the word and check in with your colleagues if you are worried about them, we are all in this together.’
Adding to the pressures faced by health workers has been the continued concern over inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon, who has been advocating for more PPE for GPs, welcomed Minister Hunt’s announcement that 40 million new masks would be made available to health workers.
‘It is great news that the Government has heeded those calls and will be delivering three and half million masks for primary healthcare workers from the national medical stockpile,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘We aren’t out of the woods yet; many GPs are still reporting that they simply don’t have enough PPE and that is one of the RACGP’s highest priorities. However, today’s announcement is certainly a positive step forward.’
To date, Australia has recorded more than 6890 coronavirus cases and 97 deaths. More than 6000 cases have recovered.
The RACGP recently hosted a COVID-19 webinar ‘Doctor support: The mental health impact of a global pandemic’ with expert panelists, discussing strategies doctors can implement to facilitate self-care. It can be accessed on the RACGP website.
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Dr Peter James Strickland   8/05/2020 12:29:54 PM

The mental problem here with Covid19 is a sense of being in an unreality. Here in SW WA there are NO coronavirus cases at all, and local travel between regions is in place in WA. Despite this there is a total paranoia everywhere in shops, pharmacies, dental and medical practices, restaurants etc. that everyone is infected. The use of hand sanitiser, physical distancing and testing of those rapidly and sensibly with cough and rhinorrhoea etc should be sufficient. The bigger problem really is influenza, and especially in the young, and that spread is attenuated by the present sensible measures. Get kids back to school, get sport back, get shops open, open pubs, cafes and clubs sensibly, and especially in all non-infected Covid 19 areas, and avoid the upcoming problems of mental illness and suicide in young and old is my concerned opinion. People are confused at present, and it is going to be very hard for them to get back to normal human relationships and mental health.