Mental health support for our Covid-19 key workers

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Covid-19 mental health

2020 lockdown has affected us on a global scale. Most of us remain at home staying safe. There is, however, a small percentage of nurses, doctors, grocers, delivery drivers and teachers who find themselves on the front line continuing to work, risking their lives to help others. And it is this small percentage of the population who are faced with an unprecedented situation, struggling with their mental health without the necessary guidance and tools to cope.

Unprepared for traumas arising from the risks they take
Let’s take the example of our health and care professionals. They have dedicated their lives to the care and protection of others. They are doing a great job within the restraints of the NHS system, but, they did not expect to be putting their own lives at risk whilst doing so. In all their years of study and learning, they would not have been trained to cope with a situation where, in the course of their work, they may face falling ill and dying. Consequently, they are ill-equipped to deal with it.

What is the impact on our key workers?
The fall out of this situation so far is potentially immeasurable because it is unprecedented. The only other place you might encounter a similar situation is in a war zone. In this instance, our military men and women are acutely aware of the risk to their lives and are trained to deal with the stress and impact on their mental health. Additionally, there are well-established Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) support groups and easy access to appropriate counsellors to help with the fallout and affects this naturally brings to a person’s mental health.

What is PTSD?
Although best known because of its association with war, PTSD doesn’t exclusively affect people in the military, it can be the result of a range of traumatic experiences and includes those affected by:
• War
• Car accidents
• Natural disasters
• Physical or sexual assault
• Hospitalisation for surgical procedures

Common PTSD symptoms relating to a single event include:
• Reliving the event (intrusive nightmares, flashbacks)
• Avoidance of events, people or situations that trigger flashbacks
• Numbing and negative changes in feelings and beliefs
• Hyperarousal – being keyed up and, for example, having poor sleep

What can be done to help?
If you are reading this as a key worker, you will be pleased to know that PTSD is very treatable through some therapies, techniques and conventional psychological treatments. I am going to explain a few of the more important ones here:

First-Line Conventional Treatment: EMDR
In a recent interview, world-leading trauma expert Professor Bessel van der Kolk confirmed that PTSD can be treated and that existing approaches available through conventional psychology like EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprogramming) are relatively successful. EMDR is a treatment where a patient thinks of traumatic events while a therapist moves their fingers from left to right in front of their eyes and the patient follows the finger movement. As the patient is looking from left to right, it appears to release the trauma related to the memories.

EMDR is found to be effective for patients with:
• PTSD
• Anxiety and panic disorder
• Phobia
• Depression
• Eating disorders and body dysmorphia
• Pain
• Sexual abuse
To summarise, extensive research into EMDR means that it is now mainstream first-line intervention treatment for PTSD. There are many 100s of papers on this treatment, 8 meta-analyses and there have been over 40 randomised controlled trials. If you would like to find a practitioner, look at this helpful website: http://www.emdr.com/SEARCH/index.php

Somatic therapies
Somatic modalities are therapy approaches that focus on the body rather than the mind. Therapies such as Somatic Experiencing® (developed by Peter Levine) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (developed by Pat Ogden) engage body awareness to release the psychological and physiological impact of traumatic events. It works on the basis that reasoning and logic alone are seldom enough to treat PTSD type trauma. “Trauma”, Peter Levine says, “is in the nervous system, not the event.” He believes that after being overwhelmed by something that has thrown us off-kilter our nervous system needs to be ‘re-set’. Somatic Experiencing is a holistic approach to establishing this natural flow between mind and body. Dr Levine was curious about the fact that animals in the wild aren’t traumatised by their life-and-death existence, while people can be traumatised by events that seem inconsequential to many of us. He realised that animals would complete the full sequence of response to danger, by noticing, reacting, and recovering from the threat. Humans often interrupt it. An animal’s body returns to baseline by allowing a chemical discharge to move through the nervous system which resets the mind and body and prepares it for the next challenge.

Applying this insight to humans, Dr Levine describes how Somatic Experiencing focuses on the physiological responses that occur when someone experiences or remembers an overwhelming or traumatic event, in his or her body, rather than only through the thoughts or emotions connected to it. Find somatic experiencing therapists at https://traumahealing.org/

Sensorimotor psychotherapy helps patients develop resources within themselves to be able to self-regulate, effect or to move out of the fight/flight/freeze response and into a higher-functioning mode where they can think clearly and feel appropriately. Find sensorimotor psychotherapists at https://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/home/index.html

The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
EFT is a revolutionary treatment method that offers healing from physical and emotional pain and disease. Without the use of needles, this form of acupuncture uses the fingertips to stimulate energy points on the body. It’s also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure. People who use this technique believe tapping the body can create a balance in your energy system and treat pain. EFT is a simple and potentially effective treatment for PTSD when the practitioner says activating phrases whilst tapping. It is based on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and addresses the fear behind the patients’ physical symptoms. You can find a qualified practitioner to work on Big T trauma at https://www.energypsych.org/. It is important to note, however, that you must ask if the practitioner is experienced working with Big T Trauma specifically, as many are not.

Could you reach out for your mental health?
I realise that many of you would never have considered seeking support for your mental health before Covid-19 – believe me, this is new territory for all of us! Maybe you have always considered yourself to be super-resilient, a strong person, built to endure all eventualities, however, this is one eventuality that could never have been predicted. Many of you working on the front line are going to work, fearful of what the day may bring. You understand the risks and yet you still head to work so that you can help others – you are truly remarkable! We are taught to do all we can to protect our bodies in the wake of this virus invasion, but are we doing enough to protect our minds?

I would urge you to consider reaching out to pursue any of the treatments named above. Not sure what would work best for you? Don’t worry, our community support hub is where we can signpost people to make sure they get the right help when they need it most. Just get in touch via email or through our social channels via text messages and we can point you in the right direction. It’s free and confidential.