Covid stress: Many doctors lost interest in work, say experts

With talks around the severity of Covid’s fourth wave growing louder, alarm bells are once again ringing in the medical fraternity.

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BENGALURU: With talks around the severity of Covid’s fourth wave growing louder, alarm bells are once again ringing in the medical fraternity. How to ensure doctors, who were severely hit during the last three waves of the pandemic, do not reach the breaking point this time? This is likely to be among the biggest challenges to deal with if Covid strikes back in June-July as predicted.

Health experts and psychiatrists, who deal with mental health issues of healthcare workers, maintain that they have been seeing a lack of interest among doctors.

“By now, doctors have adjusted to the clinical expectations from Covid. While news of another wave doesn’t seem to bother them about their capacity to work, what is becoming more common among healthcare workers is loss of interest in work,” said Dr Ashlesha Bagadia, psychiatrist and head of psychotherapy services, The Green Oak Initiative, community mental health centre. The initiative has been running a free mental health helpline for healthcare workers since May 2020 to help them battle pandemic stress and speak out.

When most professionals worked from home during the pandemic, HCWs had to step out though they too were left with no helpers, or nannies at home to take care of their kids. “Many young couples faced marital disharmony as they had to manage work in hospitals, look into kids’ online classes and take care of household chores,” said psychiatrists, adding doctors don’t want to go through such hardships during the next wave.

Dr Mahesh Gowda, psychiatrist and director, Spandana Healthcare recalled the typical burnout syndrome seen among HCWs. “In one case, a doctor who worked at a government hospital without a break faced enormous stress and wanted to resign as he found it unbearable. However, he got better with medicines and just a 10-day break in October 2021, after the second wave,” said Dr Gowda.

‘Assaults unacceptable’

Members of Karnataka Resident Doctors’ Association TOI spoke with recalled incidents where junior doctors were assaulted by relatives of Covid patients during the second wave.

Referring to how a woman doctor was assaulted by a Covid patient’s son in Ballari last May, former president of KRDA Dr Namrata C said such incidents affect the morale of doctors, who take up the profession with passion. “Many doctors have been assaulted for no fault of theirs. Is it worth all the hard work and stress,” she asked.

Dr Namrata said she has stopped recommending the profession to youngsters. “The hardcore reality of the profession is stress. Broken marriages, relationship issues, lack of peace and suicidal attempts are a reality among HCWs, and Covid has contributed to all of this,” she said.

According to Dr Bagadia, the full picture may never evolve because doctors are very reluctant to seek help. “Going by the HCWs who have approached us, we are definitely seeing worsening of relationships. In one instance, both husband and wife had to report to work, while their nanny went back to her hometown, leaving the family to fend for themselves.It put an enormous strain on their marriage and led to conflicts, which they had previously been able to resolve,” said Dr Bagadia.

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