This weekend, for the first time since the lockdown started, I am going into work. I am lucky since I have many colleagues who have been working flat out since this began, but I have always considered that I am using this time getting ready, preparing because my work is just beginning.
A few weeks ago, the Healthcare Leadership Blog published this essay by Joe Babaian which outlined the 4 Waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first wave, the wave related to COVID-19 acute illnesses directly, didn’t intensely involve mental health workers, and so I was often able to work from home, conferring with teams, preparing and planning for the second, third and fourth waves.
The second wave results from those usually acute conditions, like psychosis or depression or anxiety, getting worse because of decreased resources to care for them. Mental health workers are getting a bit busier and some of my patients need more attention.
The third wave results from loss of care beginning to affect chronic conditions, like psychosis, depression and anxiety, and my patients are beginning to get worse. I am the doctor for a unit established to help manage patients of the second and third wave with worsening mental health symptoms – some of whom may have COVID-19.
The fourth wave is an epidemic of acute and chronic mental illness – this wave will have me and my colleagues working night and day to manage.
While my workload is manageable today, in the second and third wave, it is only manageable if I work a bit on the weekend.
While the stigma that sees mental illness as a weakness is much reduced in recent years, it is discouraging to realize that that the Government, and even the health community, believe that we can begin to go “back to normal” just as the first wave ends.
You can only plan this way if you think that mental health isn’t as important as physical illness. A pandemic of a virus that causes a physical illness merits an intensive investment of time and resources. It merits a country being shut down so that resources can be focused, so that people are given the time to stay well. But, when the trauma and mental illness and burnout begin, we can all “go back to normal”.
This planning demonstrates the persistent stigma of mental illness and the disregard of those who suffer from mental illness and the disrespect of those whose life work is caring for the mentally ill.
I ask you right now: can you feel the trauma that social isolation and physical distancing are causing?
If you have an existing mental illness, can you feel your symptoms re-emerging?
If you have been trying to work from the less than ideal circumstances imposed on you because of the pandemic, can you feel yourself burning out?
Seriously, do you not think we should all have time to recover from these conditions also? Or do you also think that, after the first wave, the pandemic will be “all over” and we will be “back to normal”?
(It was a cold spring day, and I took a walk around the hospital to clear my mind.)