Mental problems rock health sector

HEALTHCARE workers (HCW) in Zimbabwe endured severe mental health problems as a result of Covid-19, a study has shown.

This resulted in over 50 nurses in Mashonaland Central province resigning within the first three months after the outbreak of the pandemic in the country in March 2020 as a result of fear, anxiety and physiological distress.

In a Mental Health Wellness study conducted by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHD) and launched on Thursday, some healthcare workers resorted to substance abuse as a way to cope up with stress that came with dealing with the pandemic on the front line.

The study was meant to investigate the impact of Covid-19 on mental health of workers in government hospitals in the country.

The report said Zimbabwe suffered from a shortage of mental health workers, with only 18 psychiatrists and about 917 mental health nurses, six clinical psychologists, 10 occupational therapists and 13 clinical social workers covering the entire country.

It was their finding that health care workers encountered discrimination from family and friends who viewed them as transmitters of the virus and that stress and anxiety levels rose as a result of shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early days of the pandemic.

“HCWs had feelings of discrimination and isolation, emanating from perceptions or how they were viewed by family, friends and communities as high-risk transmitters of Covid-19. Secondly, the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to a stressful work environment, with work overload and limited resting times. This led to burnout, fatigue, stress and depression among the health workers.

“Thirdly, there were many challenges in the health system such as lack of PPE, sundries and consumables, limited availability of human resources for health among others that exacerbated the plight of the health care workers,” the report read.

The key observation, the report read, was that “limited availability of formal or institutionalised mechanisms to help health workers cope with the burden of Covid-19 resulted in health workers leveraging on family and societal support, while others resorted to harmful practices such as substance abuse”.

ZADHD recommended the government to invest a lot in mental health service provision to avert the prevailing situation of high patient-to-staff ratio across all government medical facilities of approximately seven nurses per 100 000 people.

It bemoaned the few mental health facilities in the country. It said out of the 11 mental health facilities across the entire country, several were no longer functional due to inadequate resources or inability to maintain existing infrastructure.

“The government should increase its investment in mental health service provision. This can be done partly by employing psychologists and counsellors within the primary health care system and public institutions. There should also be serious investment in tools of the trade such as psychometric instruments which are necessary for screening and diagnosis of mental disorders,” the report read further.