Such has been the impact of COVID-19, that according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), they have received an increase in calls since the start of lockdown, with several callers being stressed about a combination of issues. The problems include the spread of COVID-19, finances, relationship problems, job security, grief, gender-based violence and trauma.
Additionally, when looking closer to home, Dr Fatima Seedat, a Specialist Senior Psychiatrist with a private practice in Newcastle, shared her expertise on the mental health of Newcastillians and residents from neighbouring towns.
However, as people attempt to adapt, and struggle with mental health issues, how much thought has gone into the mental health of medical practitioners, the very people who have had to deal with a global pandemic?
According to a UKZN study by Dr Thejini Naidoo, a psychiatry registrar based at the King Edward VIII hospital; there is a high pervasiveness of burnout, anxiety and depression among medical doctors in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
Her study was conducted in 5 public sector training hospitals in KZN, and forms part of her Masters of Medicine degree specialising in Psychiatry.
Hailing from Tongaat in NKZN, Naidoo is passionate about assisting her colleagues. Especially through support programmes which are aimed at improving their well-being, something which she feels is often neglected, but needs to be prioritised.
But just how serious is the situation and what did she discover in her study?
Out of the 150 participants, 88 screened positive for burnout indicated by emotional exhaustion or depersonalisation. One-fifth of the group also screened positive for anxiety and depressive symptoms.
This is a scary figure, as it reflects how medical professionals are putting their own well-being aside in an attempt to care for others.
Furthermore, Naidoo’s study indicates that burnout comprised of 3 components. The components include emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishment.
The emotional exhaustion, which was experienced, consists of long periods of emotional and physical fatigue. Depersonalisation refers to feelings of negativity and detachment from the job. Personal incompetence was found to be experienced by those medical doctors who experienced feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement at work.
Contributing factors to both individual and organisational factors associated with burnout include work stress and anxiety, balancing work and personal life, as well as long working hours, high workloads, poor working conditions, public system-related frustrations, insufficient holiday time, inadequate equipment, poor management support and low work satisfaction.
Naidoo stresses in her study, that these factors also play a negative impact on the care of patients, as well as increasing the risk for psychiatric co-morbidities such as suicide, anxiety and depression.
She explains that she would recommend the Department of Health investigates the prevalence of burnout and implements evidence-based strategies.
At an individual level, Naidoo emphasises doctors should embrace mindfulness, stress management, exercise, communication skills training and participation in small group programmes oriented around promoting and building a community.
Additionally, at an organisational level, measures put in place must include reducing working hours and the workload, as well as improve institutional support and advocacy for peer support with a focus on junior doctors.
With the study reflecting the struggles which medical professionals face, all the while caring for the community, it has become paramount to remember frontline workers during these trying times.
Author: Quinton Boucher
Edited: Calvin Swemmer