By Andre Radmall MA MSc BA, Psychotherapist and Life Coach (www.andreradmall.com)
The long term impact of the pandemic on the care sector is as yet to be measured. We know however that already there is widespread sickness, burn out and possibly signs of PTSD. Staff in care homes will be very affect- ed by the high mortality rate in their homes. Covid has in some cases decimated care homes. Unlike hospital wards these are small communities where long standing relationships are built up over long periods of time and in some ways they can be like an extended family. Losing members
of the home to Covid will mean the loss of friends and long term rela- tionships. Some care workers will also have been ill themselves and possibly experienced the death of their colleagues.
Care staff will probably need long term support with their mental health. Issues may include depression, anxiety and trauma. The signs of this can be difficulty sleeping, irritability, low tolerance for stress and mood swings. Even though staff may seem OK that doesn’t mean they
are. It will be important to invest in staff taking the time to receive the support necessary to recover their sense of balance and resilience. It may be necessary for staff to access therapeutic support. This may take the form of cognitive therapy or in some cases targeted therapies with which to address PTSD symptoms. There may be a lot of anger, guilt and even shame in staff who will need professional treatment if they are not to suffer long term mental health issues. This could be a challenge to managers and the wider service as psychological treatment in the NS may be very oversubscribed in the coming year or so. Going forward, another problem may lie in recruitment to the sector given the impact of the serious effects of Covid in the media.
An important aspect of care home workers’ own mental health recov- ery will be the support of their work colleagues and friends. This is part- ly because these people will have an understanding of the trauma they have been through. I think self help groups of care workers facilitated by a professional could be valuable in helping workers recover from their experiences of the pandemic. It is often the case that the people working in a similar situation will be able to share tips and advice to help maintain mental health. These groups can also be a way of preventing the isolation that often accompanies depression and stress related reac- tions. Workers will also need support from groups like family and non- work friends. One reaction to low mood is social isolation and of course this is made worse at this time by the social distancing restrictions. So it
becomes more important than ever that friends check in on those work- ing in this sector and if necessary have the discussion with them about seeking medical support if necessary. The nature of care sector workers is often to put others’ needs before their own so it is helpful if those close to them can encourage them to share their feelings and take some time and space for themselves.
A helpful tool for care workers may be to practice compassionate mindfulness. This is an approach whereby physical and emotional feel- ings are acknowledged, observed without judgement and accepted. It is often helpful to support this kind of approach with a general attitude of being kind to oneself and taking time for self care. Walks, exercise and getting enough sleep can be very helpful in supporting this mindful approach.
In summary, it is helpful to consider the long term effects of working through a pandemic in the care sector. It is likely to impact mental health and appropriate long term therapy and support will need to be considered across the sector.
Andre was formerly Manager and Group Therapist at Priory Hospital North London and a Psychotherapist at Rafan House in Harley Street. For the last twenty years he has worked in private practice specialising in depression, anxiety and stress, family therapy, addictions and issues of self worth. His new book on ‘How to pivot your life story’ is due to be published May 2021.