Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, key workers including Healthcare professionals, volunteers and home-based carers have been working on the front lines to treat and care for patients or loved ones 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 facilities, personal protection measures and exhausting working hours. It is possible that the key workers’ psychological health as a result of Covid-19 can be related to 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. It is now clear that volunteers and home-based care providers are suffering with this as well. Safeguarding key workers, whether professional, voluntary, or home-based during the lockdown and as we move into the recovery stage of this pandemic is essential.
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. There is a need for specific support to be put into place for all of these people, even though their roles are varied and their experiences different.
Secondary traumatic stress and Compassion Fatigue or ‘cost of caring’ have all been used interchangeably -despite the nuanced differences- to describe the detrimental effects of being exposed to the trauma reports of others and the empathic engagement with their traumatic experiences.
Due to the nature of this trauma often occurring indirectly recognizing the symptoms of secondary trauma can be difficult and often go unrecognized 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.
Undoubtedly, there will be an exacerbation of mental health issues and concerns to existing and new individuals, how services can adhere to demand should be a priority, but at the moment, it looks like its just another item added onto ever-growing to-do lists for governmental and private boards.
There really is only one place to start, because if you are waiting for somebody else to care for you, you will probably be waiting a long time. Prioritize yourself, because when you care for yourself, it enables you to care for others too.
It is not about being selfish, or egoistic, it is about valuing yourself as much as you do others. Love yourself as you do others, then others will learn from you too about caring for themselves too.
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Stay safe and well, until the next time.