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Many will face mental health struggles as a result of this pandemic – but perhaps some of the most vulnerable are the 1.4 million NHS staff members fighting on the frontline.
They’re working long hours, often away from their families to keep them safe. They see firsthand the awful effects of this virus on the human body. And they have patients, possibly even coworkers, whose lives are taken as a result.
These people face little reprieve from the brutal reality of Covid-19, a reality the rest of us are very much sheltered from. Unless you’re in that position yourself, the mental toll is unimaginable.
“Right now, our day-to-day roles have dramatically changed and there’s more pressure,” Charlie, an anaesthetist, tells HuffPost UK. “Doctors are being moved to support different teams, often in completely different specialisms, and that can be really nerve-racking.”
On top of this, the work Whatsapp groups don’t stop, says Charlie, and family and friends are constantly asking questions. “It’s hard to get any headspace and find respite,” he says. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
The primary concern for doctors right now is their patients, and their patients’ families. This means their own struggles are often be suppressed. “Even when you’re off duty at home, there’s a lot to process from your shift, plus you’re aware of what you might be taking home to your family,” adds Charlie.
Jo, a doctor, says the uncertainty element is impacting her mental health. She’s having trouble sleeping, is struggling to find time to exercise, and has lost her appetite.
“Even when you’re off duty at home, there’s a lot to process from your shift.”
“Not knowing what each day is going to entail is really taking its toll,” says Jo. “By the end of each shift I feel physically and emotionally drained.”
Jo turns to meditation when work gets particularly stressful, acknowledging that it’s important to focus on herself and let her mind go elsewhere – even if just for a short moment.
But, she adds, she and the millions of NHS staff members are “more determined than ever” to provide the best care. “The sense of team work is amazing and we are all rallying together supporting one another,” she says.
Having the tools to deal with the mental health repercussions of this pandemic is crucial. Here are some of the initiatives on offer to health workers right now – whether you’re a worker on the frontline in need of support, or looking to donate money to help staff access these services.
The all-around help: Help Them Help Us
A team of doctors and non-doctors have created an initiative supporting NHS staff on the frontline. Help Them Help Us works on a donation model: you donate money and it goes towards paying for physical protection (PPE), as well as counselling and psychological services for NHS staff.
The wellbeing support: Duty To Care
‘Duty To Care’ is an initiative providing NHS workers with wellbeing support via free online consultations with CBT therapists, psychotherapists, mindfulness teachers, meditation experts, and nutritionists. It was set up by three professionals who have witnessed how stressful the current period is for NHS workers.
Wellbeing experts have offered reduced rates to Duty To Care, but the initiative aims to fund the rest of the cost through donations so NHS staff can access the support for free.
The mental health line: NHS Mental Health Hotline
The NHS has launched a free-to-call mental health hotline. Staff can call or text a number – staffed by thousands of trained volunteers from Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout – to receive support for the pressures they face every day.
Volunteers will listen to staff and give psychological help to those in need. Anyone who requires further support will be signposted to other services, ranging from financial assistance to specialist bereavement support.
The phone line is open between 7am and 11pm every day, while the text service is 24/7. NHS staff can call 0300 131 7000 or text FRONTLINE to 85258.
The counselling service: Frontline 19
Two therapists have set up a free online counselling service for NHS frontline staff – and they’ve recruited a network of 1,000 volunteer therapists to help.
Since launching Frontline 19, Claire Goodwin-Fee, from Kent, and Sam Cotton, from Ayr, say they’ve had 10,000 NHS workers trying to access the service. However, the website keeps crashing due to demand. They’ve now launched a crowdfunding page to pay for a better site so they can continue to pair NHS workers with therapists.
“I’m passionate about supporting our NHS frontline staff at this extraordinary time, having in the past received incredible loving care for a family member from intensive care nurses and doctors,” said Goodwin-Fee. “They’re scared, overworked and stressed and need our support now more than ever.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.