‘Coronavirus Is Affecting Mental Health’: How Are Doctors Coping?

The pandemic is causing increased anxiety among practitioners and other medical staff.

Updated07 Apr 2020, 04:30 AM IST
Fit Connect
5 min read

(World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated annually on 7 April. The theme for this year is to support nurses and midwives for their vital role in keeping the world healthy. FIT is republishing this story from its archives in light of this.)

“We are doctors. Yes, there is a lot of stress. But we can't stop. That is not an option,” Dr Vishal Bhambri murmured before the conversation took a more serious turn. Last Tuesday, when Bhambri, a senior consultant of Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospital, Mohali, treated a patient who looked like a sure victim of coronavirus, anxiety took over the doctor. The patient had recently travelled back to India from Seattle, US, where there were already six reported deaths due to COVID-19.

“Yes, you are a professional, but that doesn’t mean you are totally insensitive towards the repercussions. I knew if the patient tested positive, I may also have to be quarantined. As a doctor you are prepared for such real time risks, but perhaps not your family. They don't want you to be exposed to any risk, and that's quite understandable on their part,” says Bhambri.

“Thankfully, my spouse is also a doctor. That helps alleviate tension at home. But I also have two daughters. My mother is always worried,” he adds.

Coronavirus Impact: Not Just Physical Threat, Also Anxiety-Inducing

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19, which has infected more than 190,000 people worldwide, and snuffed out close to 8,000 lives, is also rapidly spreading in India with at least 147 cases detected, of which 2 people so far have died. The virus has also taken a huge toll on the lives of doctors, medical workers and healthcare staff across the world. Close to 3,300 medical staffers have been infected in China alone, with at least 7 medical officers reportedly dead. “It is not only about physical threat,” says Bhambri.

“It also takes a huge mental toll. We all talk about the director of a hospital in Wuhan who died whilst treating patients, but there are thousands of healthcare staff across the world and in India who are vulnerable to the infection because of their proximity to the patients. This puts them under a lot of mental duress and their families are also affected.”
Dr Vishal Bhambri

Thankfully for Dr Bhambri, the tests of the person from Seattle were negative, and no other suspected case from his hospital has so far tested positive.

“So far, so good. But it is evident that in a country like ours, numbers (of infected) are going to swell and we have to be ready. More than me, my family was relieved when the report turned out to be negative,” Bhambri told this reporter.

Has India Dealt With Coronavirus Outbreak More Effectively?

Dr Raman Sharma, who heads the team treating suspected coronavirus patients in Rajasthan, is currently dealing with 4 infected patients, and says there is a lot of panic both among the medical fraternity and public. “The circumstances are such that it has affected one and all. A war room has been created to deal with the situation. There is a lot of panic but with proper counselling it can be overcome,” Sharma said.

Sharma's patients include an Italian tourist who was tested positive initially but later doctors were able to contain the viral shedding, and the latest reports have now turned out to be negative.

Even though the number of people infected by the virus is increasing steadily in the country with many states reporting fresh cases each day, Dr Bhambri feels that the country has so far dealt with the pandemic wisely.

“Actually, as compared to other nations’ governments, the Indian government has taken quite a few positive steps. There were hardly 60-70 cases when the Indian government decided to suspend tourist visas. This is contrary to what most western countries did. Also there was only one testing laboratory in Pune, but now government has set up 52 testing centres across the country which is helping in detecting the cases,” he says.

Containing the Spread of Coronavirus in the Community

“These steps are necessary since we saw that in China even though they took these steps early on yet the number of cases exceeded 80,000. When the city in Wuhan was shut down there were only 444 cases. The next day they shut down 15 other cities yet the number of cases crossed 80,000. Now the cases are going down and they are decreasing restrictions now. So if we follow the same thing then we may be able to contain it,” adds Bhambri.

The pandemic, though, is causing increased anxiety among practitioners and other medical staff.

Dr Bhambri had to convene a meeting at his hospital to chalk out a solution. “Nurses , general duty attendants, the front office staff, the receptionists – all are worried,” says Bhambri. “We had a meeting today at the hospital to find out the possibility of having shifts by rotation . We need to have half the people working and half of them at home, week by week. I find that to be the only way out.”

Coronavirus ‘Comics’

For Dr Ravindra Khaiwal who works in the Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health in Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, the anxiety of his children at his home turned out to be an opportunity to spread awareness among the people about the pandemic. The consistent pestering from his son about his well-being led Khaiwal to design a comic to quench the curiosity of the 8-year-old. “My son was continuously asking me about it (coronavirus) . I thought of drawing something for him to calm him down. Ultimately it led to making a comic called ‘Kids Vaayu and Corona: Who Wins the Fight.

Khaiwal worked with another doctor Dr Suman Mor, and a research team, to produce the comic that was ultimately released by the Ministry of Health, Government of India, to spread awareness among citizens.

“When I wrote the script, my 8-year-old and 14-year-old son helped me in ideation. Ultimately, the concept was refined with the help of my team,” Khaiwal says.

“I realised that because of the panic, everyone wants to learn more. Almost everyone above 14 years of age today uses the internet, and adults are exposed to all kinds of media, but the age group of that of my son, that is, above 5 and below 14, which mostly depends on elders for information, can be engaged in prevention in an interesting way, through such infotainment,” he adds.

(Hanan Zaffar is Associate Editor, ‘Muslim Mirror' and Editor 'CricSwarm'. He has written extensively on politics and sports for national and international organisations like DailyO, The Diplomat, The Quint, Albilad Daily, The Citizen etc. He tweets @HananZaffar. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 19 Mar 2020, 10:17 AM IST

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