COVID-19: Supporting healthcare professionals

As all health practitioners go through stressful, anxious and traumatic experiences, psychiatrists will have a role in assisting them with their mental health. Peer support

In the NHS context, peer support describes the work of healthcare practitioners who provide emotional and social support for colleagues who share a common work experience in the same specialty.

Peer support is invaluable to all NHS staff but never more so than in times of crisis, heavy workloads and associated stress. It is important, therefore that those providing peer support receive the necessary training and support themselves in order to provide help to colleagues safely and within ethical boundaries.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and RCPsych have worked together to produce a handy two-page guide (PDF) to the values, principles and practice of peer support.

The main aspects of peer support have been illustrated in an accompanying infographic (PDF) that can be printed out and displayed locally as a reminder of the need for peer support, its practical applications in the NHS, and to link to the longer article for further reading.

The roles and work of psychiatrists during the pandemic

Our RCPsych statement The Roles and work of psychiatrists during the COVID-19 pandemic clarifies the important role that psychiatrists continue to have during the COVID-19 pandemic in delivering care for their patients. Our statement also describes a preventative model of occupational mental health for psychiatrists who are invited to assist their colleagues in general hospitals and the temporary COVID-19 hospitals.

Below are some ways you can assist.

  • Do not assume that everyone will become ill. Continue recommended practice of not psychologically debriefing others after challenging events; remember leader led discussions/reviews are however a good idea as long as they are conducted in a psychologically safe way. It is best to provide proactive managerial/supervisory led support as well as peer/colleague support for the majority.
  • You are well-equipped to help other frontline teams by helping supervisors to properly support their staff respond appropriately and try to improve the socially cohesive interpersonal bonds within their teams. Those who are understandably distressed should not be referred to mental health services immediately but managed within the team by a sensitive and psychologically informed supervisor.
  • Psychiatric services may also be able to provide a rapid, bespoke clinical service for other frontline healthcare staff who do become mentally unwell. This will depend on what capacity is available locally, doing so would help the overall effort to maintain a pool of efficient frontline healthcare workers to deliver care. Such an offering needs to adopt a ‘return to duty’ mindset whilst remaining vigilant for workers who might have significant, and therefore occupationally impairing, mental disorder. Liaison with occupational health staff in relation to this task is recommended.

A call for action

The paper Enhancing mental health resilience and anticipating treatment provision of mental health conditions for frontline healthcare workers involved in caring for patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic – A call for action considers how organisations and individuals should enhance mental health resilience and urges the health care system to prepare for the potential mental health impact that corona virus will have on all our front line health and care staff.

Additional resources

Read more to receive further information regarding a career in psychiatry