Covid-19 crisis can lead to PTSD among healthcare workers, psychologists warn

The enormous influx of patients, the long work days and -weeks, the lack of variation, and the terrible course of the coronavirus in patients are causing deep feelings of powerlessness in doctors and nurses, and this can have long-term consequences, psychologists warn. They worry that the traumatic impact of the Covid-19 crisis will lead to post-traumatic stress disorders among healthcare workers in the Netherlands, the Volkskrant reports.

"We expect that a lot of aftercare will be needed in the future," Ans Willems, the departmental leader in medical psychology at the Bernhvoen clinic in Uden - which is currently almost exclusively treating Covid-19 patients, said to the newspaper. "In healthcare, we are used to making people better. Now the focus is often on grief, on guiding a dying person. Some experience multiple deaths during their shift. That is quite a switch for all employees."

Hospitals across the country hastily established new teams, or expanded existing teams, focused on mentally supporting colleagues. These teams consist of psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselor. Hospitals also launched helplines where employees can find a sympathetic ear if they need it. 

Psychologists in Medical Psychology at the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven noticed that they now mainly speak to colleagues, instead of patients, a spokesperson said to the Volkskrant. Psychologist Rik Withaar at the Isala hospital in Zwolle sometimes has to remind colleagues to eat, drink and take a break, he said to the newspaper. They become alienated because of all the protective clothing, which means little to no physical contact. The fear of running out of protective equipment also weighs on them, Withaar said. And stress and overwork cause people to question their own medical judgment. 

Psychologist associations LVMP, NIP, and NVGzP all called on the Ministry of Public Health to ensure good mental support and aftercare for doctors, nurses and other employees working through this crisis.