OPINION

Supporting Australia's frontline health workers during COVID-19

Supporting Australia's frontline health workers during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented and unique mental health challenges.

As we grapple with the restrictions of lockdown (particularly in Victoria), spare a thought for the thousands of workers who are literally putting their lives on the line.

Doctors, nurses, allied health and paramedics are among the workers who are on the frontline.

The beginning of the pandemic brought international media coverage of overcrowded hospitals, health systems struggling to cope and high rates of infection in health workers.

The stress of going to work not knowing whether they will contract the coronavirus means that frontline health workers have increased risk of anxiety, depression, burnout and other conditions.

Health workers also worry about their capacity to provide the best care for their patients and whether they will have access to the resources patients need to recover.

While providing care to their patients, they are at risk of contracting the virus themselves. In Victoria alone, more than 3000 health workers have contracted the virus.

This seriously depletes the workforce, as health workers need to self isolate after being tested and take time off work when unwell.

A significant source of worry for health workers is whether they bring the virus home and infect their family or loved ones.

Health workers are experiencing changes in the workplace to protect themselves and their patients.

Working in full personal protective equipment and the shift to seeing patients via telehealth are just two changes that health workers have experienced as a result of the pandemic.

Poor mental health among health workers affects not just individuals but also their families.

In their busy roles caring for patients, healthcare workers sometimes do not prioritise their own needs.

Studies have shown that health workers are reluctant to seek help for mental health issues.

We need to better understand these issues, so that we can future proof the health workforce to withstand future crises.

Researchers from La Trobe University and Melbourne Health are leading the Australian Frontline Workers Study, surveying frontline health workers about the psychosocial impact of COVID-19.

If you're an Australian frontline health worker, please take the survey so that we can better support you and your colleagues.

Because the country needs you now more than ever.

To complete the survey, visit https://covid-19-frontline.com.au

Karen Willis is a professor in Allied Health Research at La Trobe University.