The Gift in the COVID-19 Storm A Focus on the Mental Wellness Challenge & Ethics

Kim Ballantine

Compassion fatigue, stress and burnout are described as occupational hazards for those in the helping professions. High patient numbers, long hours, complex ethical decision making, exhaustion, to name a few, have all contributed to the ongoing challenges helping professionals face. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the strain, further stretching burnt out health care workers to breaking point.

They feel ill-equipped to deal with the trauma they are facing and are often unsupported in the workplace. They are called on to make pressured, ethically challenging decisions, as scare biomedical resources have to be allocated, placing them at risk of PTSD and moral injury.

Dealing with extended lockdowns, the impact of isolation, worrying about bringing the virus home to loved ones, the fear of going out in public, plus the impact of working in a stressful environment, have also contributed to what is being termed Burn-in, a form of cabin fever. Health care workers are not exempt.

Furthermore, heading into a second and third wave of the pandemic, individuals are experiencing ‘flash forwards’ and being traumatised, before the event has occurred, as they imagine disastrous outcomes for themselves, their colleagues, patients or those they care about. This Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder is now being seen on a scale like never before, and has significant physical and psychological impacts on both frontline workers and the patients they deal with.

Unfortunately, there has been a sense of shame amongst health care professionals, around discussing mental health issues. They find it difficult to acknowledging that, the desire to positively influence the quality of someone else’s life, may actually come at a cost to their own; that their emotional energy expenditure in caring may be higher than their ability to recover; and that the pandemic may be tipping them over the edge.

Can we, as helping professionals, afford to normalise burnout, compassion fatigue, moral injury, Pre-TSD and Burn-in, wearing these like a badge of honour? Is there an ethical implication if we do? Or, is the gift in the COVID-19 storm, the opportunity to face the mental health challenges and ethical dilemmas each of us may be facing, as mental health and wellbeing comes sharply into focus?

Join me as we explore each of these concepts in detail, and look at how we can grow and benefit from the gift in the COVID-19 storm.

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