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Covid-19: Significant rise in number of doctors seeking mental health support

by Awil Mohamoud
17 April 2020

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Mental health support services have reported a sharp increase in the number of NHS workers reaching out for support amid the coronavirus crisis.

Practitioner Health, a mental health service which supports doctors across England, said it has seen a ‘significant rise’ in demand for help this week.

Speaking to Management in Practice, medical director of the organisation and GP, Dr Clare Gerada, commented: ‘We are seeing a lot of people with anxiety, fear, bereavement issues, concerns about PPE, and concerns about ethical decisions they are making.’ 

‘We are seeing rising demand, but I think in two or three weeks we will see significantly increased numbers.’

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the service had already been experiencing a ‘week on week increase’ in the number of doctors seeking support. 

Enquiries initially fell at the start of the pandemic as the crisis hit, Dr Gerada said. But she expects demand to build. 

‘It’s early days yet. People are still getting stuck into the work, and are being carried, emotionally, by their efforts. 

Mind head of workplace wellbeing Emma Mamo said: ‘We’re in unprecedented times, and we know that uncertainty can fuel anxiety. We’re bound to feel more worried and under stress than usual, so it’s important we’re all taking extra steps to look after our physical and mental health right now.’

The Laura Hyde Foundation, a mental health service for nurses, also recently reported that demand had nearly doubled in a single week. 

Is there enough support?

Last week, the NHS launched a mental health hotline for NHS staff, to provide psychological support and advice, and partnered with a series of mental health apps, which can be accessed free of charge. 

Practitioner Health has been offering mental health support during the coronavirus crisis through group and individual therapy and online

Moral injury isn’t a mental illness, it’s a state of emotion, but we want to make sure we’re also picking up doctors with mental illness who may struggle,’ Dr Gerada said. 

‘I think it’s important we keep an eye out for people, and that where people do need additional support, that it is there.

‘In terms of what there was six weeks ago, I think there is certainly a lot more help available. I think if anybody is struggling, they will be able to find easily accessible help. 

‘I think this will need to change going forward. We may need more services for PTSD.’

Before the pandemic

Primary care staff, GPs in particular, were already stressed, burned out and low on morale prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the findings of Cogora’s annual State of Primary Care Report.

Some 40% of all primary care professionals, and 35% of GPs, said they had required time off work or expected to in the next year due to work-related stress. 

Similarly, 57% of GPs (and 38% of practice managers) rated their morale as either ‘very low’ or ‘low’. Only one in 10 GPs said their morale was either ‘high’ or ‘very high’. 

Both GPs and practice managers ranked ‘unrealistic patient demand’ as the main driver and included ‘workload dumping’ in their top three reasons.

Where to get help and information

Practitioner Health provides:

●      Group support through daily ‘Doctor’s Common Room’ video call sessions

●      Free resources and apps (either self-directed support or with a therapist)

●      Events ranging from a choir to mindfulness sessions provided by experts

●      Small support/therapy groups for general Covid-19 issues, including bespoke support (for example, on bereavement)

●      Peer support – provided by GPs from the RCGP’s retired doctors group

●      Individually requested support for specific issues (held remotely) via online booking

●      Individual therapy

●      A group for those in clinical leadership roles.

Here is a guide for dealing with stress and anxiety.

Advice from Mind:

‘The 2017 Thriving at Work employment review made a number of recommendations for how employers could better support the mental health of their staff and improve workplace culture. As our NHS staff are placed under even more pressure, adopting these recommendations has never been more important.

‘They include things like employers making sure staff check in and consider their mental health; offering additional support for staff during busy periods; senior leaders promoting employee wellbeing by speaking out about mental health and acting as role models for self-care; and making sure mental health is incorporated in to current training programmes so staff know their wellbeing is a priority.

‘Offering more regular catch ups with managers and colleagues to check in over video call, where possible, can also make a big difference, as can accessing Employee Assistance Programmes (24 hour confidential phone support) or making counselling or other therapy available online.’


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