Liu Zhongchun has noticed more healthcare workers coming to seek therapy. Once they had time to stop and think, the stress of what they had been through started to surface.
The weeks of intense work left some medical workers with PTSD. Even though they are no longer treating and caring for Covid-19 patients, they still wake up suddenly. “We have [fight-or-flight hormone] norepinephrine in our bodies, and during the worst stage of the epidemic, healthcare workers were driven by nervous energy since there was no other outlet. But you can’t go on like this for more than one or two months. They need time to rest and recover from the exhaustion. Otherwise they may never recover or they will experience burnout from the psychological perspective,” Liu said.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Liu has maintained close contact with his colleagues all over the country, and cooperated in publishing academic papers in professional journals abroad, sharing the experience from Wuhan with medical counterparts all over the world.
In an article co-authored by Liu published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers surveyed 1,257 healthcare workers in Hubei, summarizing common psychological symptoms, including stress (50 percent), anxiety (44.6 percent), insomnia (34 percent and psychological distress (71 percent).
Among them, medical staff in Wuhan were more prone to psychological pressure, while female medical staff and those with senior titles faced more pressure.
The sources of stress are multiple. Witnessing a large number of deaths every day creates a sense of not being in control. The continued spread of the virus extends to personal concerns about themselves and the safety of their families. In addition, the temporary changes in the working environment and content, as well as the state of isolation, can all become the source of psychological problems, requiring timely crisis intervention, otherwise problems may recur.
Doctor Li Qiguang, from the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine of Shaanxi Mental Health Center, was part of the first psychological assistance medical team dispatched from Shaanxi Province to Wuhan. On February 24, he arrived in Wuhan with his colleagues and was assigned to Wuchang Hospital.
Unlike other medical teams whose main focus was the psychological needs of Covid-19 patients, Li Qiguang and his team devoted two-thirds of their energy to doctors and nurses at Wuchang Hospital. He said all the medical staff at the hospital were under great pressure and were generally feeling depressed.
General crisis interventions require 10 to 12 courses of treatment, but due to the circumstances, time was limited and treatment was shortened to three to five sessions. More often than doctors, nursing teams, the majority of them women, displayed higher psychological needs. Every day they had to cope with arduous work and witnessed frequent deaths.