Victorian health services are concerned about increasing levels of depression and anxiety among healthcare workers due to the pressures created by COVID-19.

The situation was reviewed by an expert panel on 9 July, convened by the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network’s “Cancer and COVID” webinar series.

Results of a small-scale study conducted at Alfred Health across an even split of nursing, medical and allied health professional staff found moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression were experienced by 20-30 percent of participating healthcare workers.

“I believe this probably speaks to the experiences of healthcare workers across Victoria,” said Dr Toby Winton-Brown, Consultant Psychiatrist at Alfred Health.

“In recent months, healthcare workers have confronted the need to balance duties to their patients with duties to their families and friends; and to balance preserving the wellbeing of their patients with preserving their own wellbeing,” reflected Dr Winton-Brown.

Dr Kym Jenkins, Consultant Psychiatrist at Cabrini Health, Chair of the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges and immediate past President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) agreed that there are significant risks and vulnerabilities that are arising from the experiences of healthcare workers during this pandemic.

“Being compelled to take a course of action that conflicts with the internal moral compass of the healthcare worker is causing moral distress for them,” observed Dr Jenkins.

Dr Jenkins was a major contributor to Minding Healthcare Workers, a report released in April 2020 that identifies the emotional landscape of healthcare workers through the phases of COVID-19.

“Our health workforce entered the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia with a fear response piqued by recent trauma from the bushfires and anxious anticipation of the pandemic, which we had watched ravage other countries overseas,” Dr Jenkins commented.

“We were fortunate that our first wave of COVID-19 was nowhere near the distressing situation experienced by Italy and other countries, but we must retain focus on how to safeguard healthcare workers’ wellbeing as we enter our second wave, since that risk is not yet behind us,” she cautioned.

“I believe it’s much more stressful for people this time around, not just because of the increased number of infections and greater community spread, but also because we had that ‘taste’ of the new normal and began to appreciate the freedom and pleasure in all the things we had previously taken for granted. Now those things have been taken away again, with less of the optimism we initially had and even less certainty about when we’ll enjoy those freedoms again,” Dr Jenkins added.

Minding Healthcare Workers contains a series of ‘ammeters’ designed to help measure emotions and track wellbeing. Additional resources can be found at #MindingCOVID writing group, which shares information regularly on Twitter.