Local doctors, particularly those on the frontlines of the country’s COVID-19 fight are being encouraged to seek mental health assistance as they cope with increasing deaths and as their already heavy workload continues to expand.
So concerned is Clinical Psychologist Christa Soleyn that she has offered an open invitation to all healthcare professionals in need.
“If there is one message I have for doctors, it’s that you have to take care of yourselves,” the founder of Soleyn Psychological Services told Barbados TODAY.
As the number of recorded COVID-19 cases in Barbados grew from the hundreds to thousands, the number of isolation facilities which for months only encompassed the centre at Harrison Point, St Lucy has increased to six.
However, the number of doctors, nurses and other supporting staff at isolation facilities have remained largely the same with an injection of private sector doctors to manage home isolation. Consequently, healthcare officials have been working longer hours and as Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best has explained, they will often be challenged to provide the highest possible standard of care because of the sheer numbers of ill patients.
“I know you’re overrun, I know you’re overworked, but I really want you to reach out for help if you need that help I have offered. If there are any medical professionals who need help and need to reach out, even if it’s one chat, just please reach out,” said Soleyn.
“If it’s not to me, but another mental health practitioner, because you are on my mind and on a lot of people’s minds and we are standing in the gap for you,” the counselling psychologist added.
She also warned that the psychological impact of home isolation could be as mentally burdensome on COVID-19 patients as the traditional isolation centres that have been housing infected people over the first 18 months of the pandemic.
“For somebody who is afraid of going to someplace new, it could be better staying in your home, but then for somebody else, there is difficulty in breaking a routine,” Soleyn explained.
“So there are pros and cons, because if you’re home and you’re accustomed to liming by your neighbour, it’s going to be difficult for some people to break that routine. So that can be harder too, because you’re fighting the urge to fall into something that you do constantly, while when you’re going to an isolation facility, that choice is kind of taken from you,” she added.
To assist, the mental health professional, called for more resources to be dedicated to the provision of mental health services over the telephone and online. Particular concern, she stressed, must be paid to people with pre-existing mental health conditions including a history of anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.
Soleyn also believes resources for constructive activities like single container gardening, pre-packaged painting kits, video calling and others could prevent long-term psychological trauma.
“Increased access to clinical services, funding for counsellors and psychosocial programmes are going to be a must if we are going to treat COVID effectively. It isn’t only about the physical illness, but the collateral damage, the mental health concerns that are happening. So a holistic approach is really where we need to go.
“So the increase of video calling or online video support is going to be important for persons in those situations. If you are going to have a challenge with anxiety, being in a new environment, or having to adjust to something new can exacerbate some of the symptoms that you’re having and so those would be my number one concerns,” she added.