Experiencing an outbreak can be very unsettling and have a real negative impact on an individual’s mental health. Individuals may have a variety of concerns about the impact of the virus on their own health, as well as for patients and colleagues.
There can be concerns around the impact the virus could have either directly or indirectly on staff’s wider family and friends, particularly if they have caring responsibilities for at risk groups. In addition to keeping employees informed, it is also helpful to provide support and tips on what staff can do to support their own mental wellbeing. For example:
- Avoid speculation and reassure staff that employers will continue to provide the latest expert advice.
- Protect themselves – follow PHE guidance in terms of hand hygiene, ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ and stay at home if they feel unwell and contact NHS 111 (preferably online) for advice if they feel they may have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Encourage staff with concerns or questions to actively speak with their manager or staff union to alleviate concerns, as well as directing them to the latest PHE information.
- Remind staff of the five ways to wellbeing, which includes support for mental wellbeing.
- Stay connected – when individuals feel vulnerable, help them to feel supported by keeping in contact with family and friends.
- Talk to children and vulnerable relatives and discuss ways they can keep themselves well and protected.
Maintaining staff morale and motivation will be essential as the outbreak progresses. The NHS and primary care have an exemplary record in sustaining services in emergency and stressful situations and responding to emergencies. The outbreak of COVID-19 will, however, create sustained pressure lasting weeks and possibly months. Experience from previous outbreaks suggests that ongoing support to tackle staff fears will be vital. Clear communication from trusted sources, honesty and open discussion of fears have been shown to be the most effective methods of sustaining morale. Organisations may want to speak to and prepare their chaplains and counselling services, as they will have a key role in supporting staff
In addition to the changing nature of work, staff may also be dealing with patient deaths, as well as dealing with sick and/or dying family members and friends. Organisations may want to review their support for staff and expand provisions where possible, which could include debriefs, trauma risk management (TRiM), Schwartz rounds, engagement, and deployment of existing in-house clinical psychology teams.