PTSD in Medical Professionals
The British public are now far more sensitive to the importance of our nurses, doctors and first responders. The global pandemic has also highlighted threats to their mental health. There are multiple studies underway to gauge the long term psychological damage being done, to frontline staff dealing with COVID-19 ‘burnout’.
However, what is less understood, is the battle to tame COVID-19 is a long way from being the only reason that PTSD is so prevalence in UK healthcare workers.
Also, this issue extends beyond frontline staff in hospitals, doctors surgeries and the ever-expanding range of community clinics. For instance, following a bad road accident or violent crime, the people who deal with the fatalities have a horrendous task. Morgue technicians, cleaners and a whole host of other support staff are traumatised regularly, doing tasks that are rarely discussed in ‘normal life’. Porters too daily witness the fragility of life.
How common are mental health issues in medical staff?
As you would imagine, much of the research to date has been focused on the teams dealing with the most seriously injured and ill patients. In July 2020, a study published in the journal Occupational Medicine showed that almost 50% of intensive care staff showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Their anxiety and depression were ‘worse than combat troops’.
Also, almost one in five ICU nurses admitted to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
A 2019 study into the mental health of 4,000 doctors and medical students reported that 80% were experiencing “burnout” and that a shocking 33% were using alcohol, drugs and self-prescribed substances occasionally or regularly.
These are the sort of statistic that can’t be ignored.
Steps to support healthcare personnel
Not surprisingly, concern has been expressed about ‘a perfect storm’. The recent pressure is colliding with existing issues leaving the UK with an even worse mental health prognosis for medical professionals and support staff.
There have been steps to demonstrate to medical staff that “It’s OK not to be OK”. Including self-referral outreach and support ventures, such as the NHS Manchester Resilience Hub set up in the wake of the Arena Bombing and Arndale stabbing. However, these ‘wellbeing’ initiatives have previously been neither countrywide nor uniform in their remit.
Leaving healthcare personnel facing localised gaps, confusion over the help that exists for them, or even completely unaware that they are experiencing PTSD!
Surely, all that is needed is the creation of a more detailed analysis of how widespread PTSD is in medical professions? The Lancet reports that many healthcare staff have ‘survey fatigue’, from being asked to report their state of health, without any progress made in addressing the issues. It says “the true picture of wellbeing among health-care workers is likely to be more complex than as portrayed in the headlines.”
Who can help medical professionals with PTSD?
NHS England and NHS Improvement have recently announced they will pump an additional £15 million into nation-wide mental health support for paramedics, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff. However, this will be focused on ‘those deemed most as risk such as critical care staff’.
Another way this may fall short of what’s needed is that accessing help provide by their employers may leave some medical professionals hesitant due to concern about their career progression. Would extra, external provision of specialist PTSD therapies ensure of the more rounded solution?
Work to gain a better understanding of the predictors of PTSD in healthcare teams is also vitally needed. Why do some medical professionals experience PTSD, while others cope with trauma on an unimaginable scale with no lasting effect?
This is one of the core groups that PTSD UK hopes to address with our outreach, and our endeavours to raise greater awareness and understanding. If you want to explore joint initiatives or treatment options for PTSD within healthcare professions, please contact us.
‘Coronavirus is whipping up a mental health storm for NHS workers‘ Ankur Khajuria
‘Mixed signals about the mental health of the NHS workforce‘, Danielle Lamb,Neil Greenberg,Sharon A M Stevelink,Simon Wessely, The Lancet Psychiatry