26 September 2023

Mental health boost for pandemic workers

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Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a range of recommendations for managing the mental health of front-line medical workers during COVID-19.

Associate Professor at UQ, Dan Siskind said employers could use several practical steps to minimise mental health impacts.

“These include clear communication, providing training and education, enforcing infection control procedures, ensuring adequate supplies of protective equipment and providing access to psychological interventions,” Dr Siskind said.

“The recommendations should be supplemented with simple changes to medical practice.”

He said these could include implementing screening stations to direct patients to relevant infection treatment clinics; redesigning high-risk procedures; and reducing the number of patients in hospital wards.

“Researchers developed the recommendations after analysing 59 international studies on the psychological effects of treating viral outbreaks,” Dr Siskind said.

“They found clinicians who were younger, in a junior role, parents of dependent children or had an infected family member were at greater risk of psychological distress.”

He said longer periods of quarantine, lack of practical support and stigma were also negative contributors.

“Although psychological distress is expected when staff are under pressure to look after large numbers of potentially infectious patients, employers can assist by making these recommended changes,” he said.

The study’s lead author, Steve Kisely said supervisors should consider staff needs when assigning duties, especially if the staff had been redeployed to meet rising clinical demands, and then where possible, make redeployment voluntary.

“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.

“They may also need alternative accommodation to reduce the risks of infecting their families,” he said.

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