Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: 'We Are Victims of Sleepless Nights, and Constant Anxiety Issues'

Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: 'We Are Victims of Sleepless Nights, and Constant Anxiety Issues'
Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: 'We Are Victims of Sleepless Nights, and Constant Anxiety Issues'

Let's shed some light on how our caregivers are dealing with constant mental health concerns such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Updated : May 28, 2023 8:08 AM IST

Mental Health conversations are making headway not only in family settings but also in social circles and beyond. Corporate India has become the epicentre of mental health initiatives and is showing openness and encouragement to mental well-being. While India Inc. is making strides in this direction, is it only limited to corporate workplaces? Where do we stand when it comes to other sectors, especially the healthcare sector which is constantly under scrutiny and high pressure? Do our caregivers receive any care while reeling under tough situations, sleepless nights and disgruntled patients and families?

In this article, Dr Ashok Shukla, President, Association of Medical Consultants, Mumbai has thrown some light on the mental well-being of the healthcare sector given that the month of May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Why Are Mental Health Issues Affecting Healthcare Professionals?

The healthcare profession itself is a highly skilled and high-pressured job where work-life balance seems nowhere on the horizon. Rotational shifts, sleepless nights and emergency situations are everyday scenarios leading to physical exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout over time. The nature of the job is such that it exposes healthcare workers to risks of infection which can also impact their families. Thus, the constant fear and anxiety of being contagious or carriers of diseases. To top it all, patients, and families with limited medical knowledge are often in distress expecting miracles out of medicine. They often play the blame game when things go south with treatment and recovery. The mental stress that doctors and caregivers are constantly subjected to has long-lasting negative impacts on their mental health. Aggression and abusive behaviour including physical violence against doctors and hospitals has almost become an everyday affair leading to prolonged frustration, mood swings, trauma, and depression.

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Impact beyond self, leading to Global Recruitment & Retention Crisis

The medical profession has always been known to be noble in nature and has been a respected career for time immemorial. However, the world has been viewing the profession from a very one-sided myopic perspective where patient safety and patient health takes centre stage. One often forgets that the very champions of this cause are expected to be human but are not being treated human enough to survive in the business of healthcare. On one side is patient centricity and on the other side the pressure comes from economic factors of profitability and investors' expectations. The pressure and the burden of this balancing act also fall on the healthcare professional. The World Health Organisation estimates a projected shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030 as per a new report that was launched in the run-up to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2023. Have we stopped in our tracks to think about why such a noble and respected profession is facing a shortfall and heading into a crisis? Have we come to realise what is prompting this medical recruitment and retention crisis?

It is no secret that the pandemic had adverse effects on healthcare professionals who were fronting against all odds. This led to further demotivation and fear in the medical fraternity. This has had cascading effects on the student community as well. A meta-analysis of suicides committed by doctors between 2010 and 2019, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (IJP) in 2021, highlighted that a majority of those taking the extreme step was PG medical students. The high cases of media reportage further point to the direction of crisis as there is fear-mongering among budding medical students and a lot of students are thinking twice before pursuing careers in medicine. Parents are sceptical to encourage their children to take up the profession due to such bad working conditions, and bad lifestyles the students are subjected to. This results in a skewed doctor-patient ratio which is impacting the overall healthcare system.

Strategies To Effect Change And Make a Difference!

There is an emergent need to address the mounting crisis before it becomes too late to salvage the situation. A macro as well as a micro level approach is a must-need where government policies and regulations are important but efforts also at college, hospital and patient community level should not lose its focus. The private sector and the government must come together with medical colleges so that we can see a stark difference to handle the looming crisis.

The Central government recently decided not to enact separate legislation for prohibiting violence against doctors and other healthcare professionals despite Union Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya's efforts to pass the bill that prohibits violence against doctors and damage to property. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor demanded comprehensive legislation to put a check on violence against healthcare professionals in the Lok Sabha. While we see efforts at the policy level, it is just the start of a winding road ahead. We cannot wait to effect change while we brush under the carpet the issues, we see at the community and hospital level. There has to be an entire ecosystem that helps with coping mechanisms, and support systems that are devoid of stigma, then only we will see a sea change in mental health impact on the medical fraternity.

While mental health issues in the medical field have brought to the fore a burning pressing issue, it is yet a neglected aspect that has not been given its due importance. Medical recruitment and retention will continue to be a global issue that requires immediate and urgent attention.

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