Managing mental health of frontline workers

University of Queensland researchers have developed a set of recommendations to help manage the mental health of frontline health workers during viral outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aim of the rapid review and meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal on 5 May 2020, was to “examine the psychological effects on clinicians of working to manage novel viral outbreaks, and successful measures to manage stress and psychological stress” (Kisely, S et al., 2020).

After analysing 59 international studies on the psychological effects of treating viral outbreaks, the researchers found that “staff in contact with affected patients had greater levels of both acute and post-traumatic stress and psychological distress” (Kisely, S et al., 2020).

The study authors note that the risk factors for psychological distress included:

  • Being younger
  • Being more junior
  • Being parents of dependent children
  • Having an infected family member.

Other factors contributing to distress were “longer quarantine, lack of practical support and stigma” (Kisely, S et al., 2020).

While the study was aimed at healthcare staff working in clinical settings and in direct contact with affected patients, the results and recommendations also relate to pharmacies.

Being a significant part in the frontline battle against COVID-19, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants may benefit from the practical steps determined in the study, which are:

  • Clear communication
  • Providing training and education
  • Enforcing infection control procedures
  • Ensuring adequate PPE supplies
  • Providing access to psychological interventions where needed.

The study’s lead author, Professor Steve Kisely said supervisors should consider staff needs when assigning duties.

“Staff need regular breaks and appropriate rosters, so they can access food and other daily living supplies and make video contact with their families to alleviate concerns,” Professor Kisely said.

To read the full study, visit: bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1642

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