Will the effects of working with Covid19 be like dealing with bereavement?

This is not going to be a post talking about what it's like to be working in a hospital or care home just now in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic. It would be futile to try and imagine what goes through the mind of a person who, on a daily basis, exposes themselves to a virus that has already killed tens of thousands of people. And then, potentially, take that same virus home to loved ones.


What I really want to examine is the potential aftermath of all this on the psychological well-being of those front line staff. Again, it's not possible to propose with any certainty what the fallout will be but it's likely to be significant.


Within the counselling community there has been a lot of activity in certain areas to try to make counselling available to these particular 'key workers'. I myself put an offer out, which is still valid, for free or heavily discounted therapy to those in my area of the country. I suspect there are other counsellors in Southport and the rest of the country doing something similar.


There has been interest, but not necessarily n a level that I may have expected. This prompted me to consider what could be going on for these people. Perhaps they just don't have time. Perhaps they don't want to think or talk about what's going on. Maybe they just feel that they are doing their job and it's nothing for them to feel anything in particular about. Because they would need to be online counselling sessions, it's possible that some people cannot arrange a quiet and confidential environment in which to talk comfortably.


There could be a multitude of other reasons but there is something that occurred to me about this which may shape the way demand for counselling develops in the future as the situation starts to resolve itself.


In trying to predict how people such as nurses or care home staff will react as things calm down, I found myself looking at it in a way that I would normally associate with a bereavement.


When you lose someone important in your life you will likely go though a stage of complete disbelief. If you go along with the idea that there are 5 stages of grief then you would experience, at various times, in no particular order and with varying degrees, Anger, Denial, Bargaining and Depession before finally reaching Acceptance.


The way a person is affected by a loss is unique to them and there are no rules on how long it takes to 'move forward' after the loss. Some people reach a point some time afterwards, usually a few months, where they think they should be 'better' than they are, (whatever that means), and this is the time that they may consider counselling as the help they need.


Those initial days and weeks where the shock is still at it's greatest, they seem to be on some sort of 'autopilot' to get through the days. There could be a numbness where they know something out of the ordinary is happening but they can't quite comprehend or make sense of it. They just know it's there.


To enter into therapy at that point may not be especially beneficial. It's hard to make sense of how you feel and how best to deal with it when you are slap bang in the centre of an exceptional trauma or a major loss.


Once the shock has passed and the reality kicks in that your world has changed and you are a different person as a result, it's then that some people struggle to deal with the 'new normal'. That is when counselling could be a more viable option.


This is where the similarities between bereavement and loss and the situation that nurses and carers at the sharp end of this medical emergency came to mind.

They are still in the middle of what is going. They could almost be on autopilot each day. They go to work and risk their lives, almost as a matter of routine, and may not get time to consider the implications. When the worst has passed and things begin to go back to something that resembles 'normal', the enormity of all this could hit. The danger they placed themselves in. There could be some that look back and ask "Did that really happen?". Imagine looking back and having to admit that you could have died. This is not an exaggeration because by 28th April 2020 over 100 NHS staff and healthcare workers in the UK had been recorded as losing their life due to Covid19. (source : BBC News)


When the dust settles for these incredible people, that is when problems may start to surface and there could be a spike in those seeking counselling. Just like with bereavement, when the true impact of what has happened starts to hit home, that can be where the psychological problems come to light and the struggles to deal with it become all too real.


I sincerely hope that all those that need help have access to it, whenever that happens to be.


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