Burn-out: An Epidemic in the Middle of a Pandemic?

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

Eleanor Brown

It feels like the world is at war. Not a war between countries, but between the world and a virus. The soldiers in this case are not countrymen dressed in camouflage prints that vowed to defend their motherland, come what may. No. The soldiers in this war are the ones wearing white coats. The civilians that took an oath to heal. Thats right. Our soldiers are the healthcare workers such as doctors, nurses, first responders and so many more working tirelessly, day and night. Selflessly, they’re putting their own lives at risk, just to save ours. A pandemic, you see, doesn’t stop for breaks, hence neither can they.

Although, that’s precisely the reason why we’ve got the perfect recipe for a cocktail of stressors.

  1. Overworked: The number of patients are rising, whereas the number of medical staff remains the same.
  2. Fear: When you’re exposed to a virus that could prove fatal, you’re bound to be in a state of constant worry. Worry for your own health, and the health of those surrounding you.
  3. Lack of emotional support: Most of us are blessed to be able to stay at home and spend time with our families. A large number of healthcare providers have made the difficult choice of staying in the hospitals, away from their families 24/7 just to ensure their safety.

Alright, our cocktail is ready. Generally, steady doses of cocktails lead to hangovers. The hangover in this situation is a burn-out, and no amounts of coffee are going to solve it.

According to ICD-11, burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. A study was conducted on Toronto healthcare workers, about 13-26 months after the SARS outbreak in 2003. It reported that there were significantly higher levels of burnout, psychological distress and post traumatic stress. This resulted in the hospital staff reducing patient contact and work hours, and faced behavioural consequences of stress.

We have absolutely no idea when this crisis is going to end, but the last thing we want is an epidemic of burn-out among those we need the most.

So if you are a healthcare worker reading this, first of all, THANK YOU for being our Corona warrior. But please pace yourself. Take breaks to distance yourself as needed. We need you.

If you’re related to anyone that’s a medical professional, check up on them from time to time. It’s remarkable how a simple ‘how are you?’ can do wonders.

Lastly, if you don’t fit in either of the above two categories, ease their burden by staying home and following whatever protocols your country is taking. That’s the least you can do.

Until next time,

Sneha

Reference: Maunder, R. G., Lancee, W. J., Balderson, K. E., Bennett, J. P., Borgundvaag, B., Evans, S., … & Hall, L. M. (2006). Long-term psychological and occupational effects of providing hospital healthcare during SARS outbreak. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(12), 1924.

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