(20 Jan 2021) Exhausted healthcare workers in Spain are facing a dizzying rise in COVID-19 cases which is once again straining hospitals.
The intensity and longevity of the pandemic are also taking a toll on the the mental health of doctors and nurses.
A study released last week by Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar found at least 28% of the more than 9,000 health workers surveyed across the country suffered from major depression and nearly 15% suffered from a mental health disorders that impacted negatively on their professional and social lives.
Nearly half were at imminent risk of developing a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks or substance and alcohol abuse.
The study only analyzed the impact of the first peak of the pandemic, but 11 months later, medical workers in Spain are still in the thick of it.
Even after the rollout of the vaccine over the Christmas holidays, the scene inside hospitals in 2021 still looks too much like its predecessor.
This month Hospital del Mar, the same hospital which conducted the study on mental health, more than doubled its critical care capacity.
On Tuesday they were nearly full, with 80% occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to Doctor Joan Masclans who heads the critical care unit.
“I spent the Christmas holidays alone with my partner. My sister was at her home alone. All this is very difficult. We did it to safeguard our health and the health of others and when we saw that this wasn’t done (by others) it provokes a certain anger on top of the fatigue,” he said.
On Tuesday the health ministry recorded 34,291 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours and 404 new confirmed deaths, bringing the totals since the pandemic began to 2.37 million cases and at least 54,000 deaths.
Still, the health minister says a lockdown is not on the table, pushing regional authorities to announce earlier curfews and other less drastic restrictions.
Some experts say this may not be enough to flatten the curve, which is beginning to look more like a wall.
“This is no joke, there are young people of some 20-something years old and older people of 80 years old, all the age groups that are drowning,” said Masclans referring to patients with respiratory failure due to COVID-19. “This is very difficult, and it is one patient after another.”
Desirée Ruiz is the nurse supervisor at the Hospital del Mar’s critical care unit.
The impact of the pandemic on her colleague’s mental health has forced a few of them to take time off.
They are unable to cope with the overwhelming workload, day in and day out, she said.
Doctor Jordi Alonso, head of the research program on epidemiology and public health at the Hospital del Mar who led the mental health study, said he worries about the consequences of the so-called “second wave” in the fall, and the so-called “third wave” taking place now.
Unlike in the summer when the curve of infections had actually flattened following the peak in the spring, hospitals have not had a break between the peak the fall and the surge being observed now in winter.
He fears that continuous exposure of hospital staff could lead to even more mental health disorders.
“We need to think that if we want to be cared for adequately, we also need to take care of the healthcare workers who have suffered and are still suffering.”
The only way of achieving that, he says, is by wearing masks, social distancing and staying at home as much as possible.
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