The second wave of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which brought the medical infrastructure of India to its knees, has taken a huge toll on the state of mind of healthcare workers.
Doctors, nurses and paramedics engaged in COVID-19 duties are spending extremely long duty hours on the work front. Fatigue, coupled with concern about the risk to their own lives and that of their families while giving medical care to COVID-positive patients is leading to anxiety disorders and stress.
With the load of COVID infected cases significantly increasing during the second wave, most hospitals across the country are reporting full occupancy and long waiting lists. For healthcare workers, this means an increasing work load with little respite.
"Healthcare workers are living in the dread of picking up the virus from the hospitals where they work and passing it on to their family members. Many have decided to stay away from their families, living in rented accommodation near the hospitals, till the time their workplace becomes safer," Paramvir Singh, counsellor at a non-governmental organisation Umeed (Hope), told Sputnik.
This has meant long periods of physical separation from loved ones even though they live in the same town.
"I have not seen my two-year-old son in person in the past six months - I see him on a video call twice a day. As I have been on COVID duty for the past eight months, I decided not to return home even after daily duty is over," Ritu Jain, a senior resident at a government hospital in the union territory of Chandigarh, told Sputnik.
As fatigue sets in for healthcare workers, they also cope up being face-to-face with death and suffering on a daily basis.
With intensive care units (ICU) turning into the equivalent of a war zone where people battle for their lives, caregivers inside the units are becoming increasingly exhausted, both mentally and physically.
Last month, a doctor serving COVID duty in the ICU of a reputed private hospital in Delhi - Vivek Rai - committed suicide, reportedly due to depression. He had been looking after COVID patients for the last month and had been dealing with seven to eight critical patients every day.
The young doctor reportedly became depressed after he seeing an increasing number of patients succumbing to the virus.
COVID WARRIOR dies by Suicide— Prof Dr Ravi Wankhedkar (@docraviw) May 1, 2021
Dr Vivek Rai,
Resident dr of DNB 1st year at Max Hospital Saket Delhi.
He Was doing covid duty since 1 month and was dealing with icu pts every day and was providing cpr and ACLS for about 7 to 8 patients per day in which not many were surviving. pic.twitter.com/ha5v09Cjwh
His death flagged the gloom and despair marking the mental health of healthcare workers across the country. Commenting on the suicide, Dr. Ravi Wankhedkar, former president of Indian Medical Association, tweeted:
Due to this frustrating situation he was into , he took such a difficult decision of ending his own life than living with the suffering and emotions of the people that died on his watch.— Prof Dr Ravi Wankhedkar (@docraviw) May 1, 2021
He was a very briliant doctor from Gorakhpur,UP++
In August 2020, when India was battling the first wave of Coronavirus, another doctor, Dr. S.R. Nagendra, posted to Karanataka state's government hospital also committed suicide, reportedly due to depression induced by the pandemic.
DrNagendra was staying alone due to fear of passing the virus on to his family and had been engaged in giving medical aid to COVID patients for long hours.
"Most doctors, nurses and healthcare workers on COVID duty are spending off duty time in the hospital, as they are terrified that they will carry the infection home and pass it on to their loved ones," Gurpreet Kaur, who is heading the nursing section at a government hospital in Chandigarh, told Sputnik.
Psychiatrists are also reporting a spike in the number of healthcare workers seeking counseling to cope with depression and anxiety as they carry on working under acute pressure.
Dr. Sandeep Grover, a professor of psychiatry at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education in Chandigarh - North India's largest COVID care facility - told Sputnik, "We have seen about a 30% increase in healthcare workers seeking formal consultation for stress related to the pandemic."
"I tell them to take a break and not drag themselves. This is the new normal and will go on for long. We must stay prepared for the future and not burn ourselves out," he added.
Psychiatrists themselves are stressed, as they deal with an increasing number of people reaching out for grief counseling after losing loved ones.
"In some cases, entire family of five or six members was hospitalised for COVID symptoms but only one or two returned home alive while others lost battle of life to COVID. Managing their grief, counseling them to stay strong is such an uphill task," Ruchika Malhotra, a therapist based in New Delhi told Sputnik.
"It's emotionally very draining and at the end of the day I feel lost and dazed as if I have myself lost someone close," she shared.
With the second wave of the pandemic now abating in India, healthcare workers are hoping that they will get a breather before the next wave sweeps across the country, reportedly in a few months time.