CHINA Deep wounds: COVID-19 medics suffer psychological trauma


Deep wounds: COVID-19 medics suffer psychological trauma

Global Times

14:20, April 16, 2020

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Medical workers take a break at a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province. (File photo: Xinhua)

Having aided Wuhan and treated COVID-19 patients for months, most of the aid medics from around the country have withdrawn to their own homes. However, although most patients have recovered with their help and been discharged from hospital, some pains may linger among the doctor and nurses both in and outside Wuhan. 

Hospitals in Wuhan and other cities in China have set in motion interventions on post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) that frequently happen to the medics returning from Wuhan.

Su, a psychiatrist of the mental health center of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, provided psychological support for medics in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province.

The mental health center dispatched a 17-member psychologist team to Wuhan on February 24 among the fifth batch of medical team to support Wuhan, and Su was the captain of the medical team.

Su told the Global Times that medics in Wuhan were haunted by fear, tension, and worry, but many of them resisted psychological assistance.

"They were under the great fame and pressure after being reported by media as 'heroes who brave the coronavirus risk,' and heroes shouldn't have psychological problems," said Su. "Most people believe that only those who have mental issues need psychological counseling," she added.

Su was responsible for psychological support to medics in Zhuankou Fangcang makeshift hospital.

Su decided to use insomnia as a bait. "We told them if you have sleeping issue, come to talk to us," Su told the Global Times. "People wouldn't accept they have mental issues, but it is easy for them to admit that they have sleeping issue," she said.

The psychological support squad also wrote an open letter telling medics that it was normal for them to suffer from tension, fear, worry, and insomnia as everyone would feel the same way in such circumstances. 

Gong Li, a psychiatrist of Huai'an Third People's Hospital of East China's Jiangsu Province, arrived in Wuhan on the same day with Su to provide psychological support to Dongxihu Fangcang makeshift hospital. He labeled himself as a "professional chatter" and marked it on his protection suit.

"If we reach them as a psychiatrist, most people would refuse as no one like to admit they have a mental problem," Gong told the Global Times.

"We would use WeChat for one-on-one counseling, as the way is better to protect their privacy and not limited by time and place," Su said.

Field counseling was designated to help medical groups relieve stress. A warm-up game may help them to relax and talk more, and Su would lead them to talk about their negative emotions during their work in Wuhan. 

"An advantage of group counseling is to help people to realize that she or he is not alone in feeling fear or anxiety, and that it is normal to have such negative emotions, so that they would feel less stressful," Su said.

Gong said that for most medics, speaking out about their negative emotions would help a lot. "Sometimes, we were just listening and being there for accompany, and they would feel much better after venting these bad emotions, such as crying," said Gong.

Then they would sit together to discuss how to overcome these bad emotions, and some specific measures that help them further escape fear and anxiety.

"Moderate fear and stress sometimes help us survive crisis, but too much fear definitely brings harm," she said.

In distinction with medics from other provinces, local medics have a more complicated emotion entangled with fear, helplessness, desperation, resentment and guilt when the epidemic broke out in the city. 

"They felt resentful for the virus that caught them off guard, desperate facing medical material shortage, desperate looking at the long queues of patients, and guilty for being unable to help some patients," she said.    

With medical teams from all over the country coming to help them with medical materials and the establishment of Fangcang makeshift hospitals, their negative emotions decreased as they felt more grateful and driven, Su said.

"Many of Wuhan's medical workers told me that after the most difficult period in fighting against COVID-19, they became more vulnerable and empathetic, and felt like to cry more easily on what they read online and watch on TV," she said.

Psychological aid during quarantine 

Peking University Sixth Hospital provides psychological counseling and lectures to Beijing medical staff who came back from Wuhan. A psychological hotline was officially opened for doctors on Friday, making it available to those in need.

"The hotline has just been opened and not many consulting cases have been received. We are planning more feasible activities, under isolation requirements, to provide psychological support for doctors," He, a staff member at Peking University Sixth Hospital, told the Global Times.

"I feel sorry for those dead patients who were not treated in time at early stage. I regret that we didn't go to help Wuhan earlier," Cao Zhaolong, an expert of the department of respiratory and critical care medicine at Peking University People's Hospital who aided Wuhan in February, told the Global Times.

Cao, with more than 130 colleagues, was responsible for treating critical patients at an intensive care ward with 50 beds at the Sino French New City Branch of Wuhan Tongji Hospital. They came back to Beijing on April 6 and are quarantined at hotels now.

"When we were in Wuhan, we did our best to treat every patient and had no regrets in treatment. Most colleagues are in good mental state currently," Cao said.

Bao Jing, Cao's colleague, told the Global Times that she is also in good mood during the quarantine and psychological support is available.

"We have taken into account the psychological conditions of the doctors aiding Wuhan, so we have tried to enrich their life during quarantine. I have a feeling that doctors are very positive right now," Zhong, a staff member of the publicity department at Peking University People's Hospital, told the Global Times.

In isolation, all the doctors tested negative for nucleic acid, so they could take turns to exercise outdoors for half an hour every day. They are organized to do exercises, such as rope skipping and dancing, Zhong said.

Their room was also equipped with exercise equipment, and colleagues who were keen on exercise made a fitness video to teach the doctors in isolation how to work out in the room. Exercise is very helpful to mental health, Zhong said.

"Doctors are divided into small groups. Some groups are learning how to make short videos, some are writing articles to summarize experience against COVID-19. Everyone is actively involved. Colorful activities in isolation also help doctors' mental health," Zhong said.

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