Employers must be conscious of and understand the indicators of ‘secondary trauma’ and ensure those who have experienced distressing circumstances are offered support, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has said, and has called for the closer safeguarding of key workers psychological health as a result of coronavirus related secondary trauma.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, key workers including Healthcare professionals have been working on the front lines to treat and care for patients who have or may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Whilst healthcare workers, in particular, have had to manage critical issues daily, such as lack of hospital facilities, personal protection measures and exhausting working hours, IOSH has called for the closer safeguarding of key workers psychological health as a result of Covid-19 related secondary trauma.
Secondary Trauma (STS) is the technical term for when an individual has been exposed to difficult or disturbing images or events, whether it be directly or indirectly. This can occur by coming into contact with material that has negatively impacted your wellbeing. Whilst occupational secondary trauma is not a new concept with journalists, police officers and crime scene investigators being the professionals most likely to suffer from symptoms of secondary trauma, the safeguarding of key workers globally during and as we move into the recovery stage of this pandemic is essential.
Bev Messinger, chief executive at IOSH, said: “We believe it is essential to protect workers’ physical and mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers and others on the frontline must have adequate mental health support and return-to-work processes throughout these challenging times. Many workers are also working from home and may begin to experience a range of emotions including a loss of control, boredom, frustration and loneliness, therefore occupational safety and health professionals have important roles in helping organisations and governments manage well-being risks during this pandemic.
Due to the nature of this trauma often occurring indirectly recognising the symptoms of secondary trauma can be difficult and often go unrecognised by the individual and their peers for long periods of time. The symptoms of secondary trauma can be broken into three sections: Physical warning signs, Behavioural signs and either emotional or psychological signs. Whilst the list of these symptoms is extensive it is important to remember that they are a signpost to what individuals may be experiencing and is not a checklist to assess the extent of someone’s negative experiences.
Physical symptoms, for example, can include exhaustion, insomnia, and headaches, whilst emotional or psychological signs can range from an impaired appetite and increased anxiety to negative or suicidal thoughts.