Studies show that 40% of South African healthcare workers across the spectrum have suffered from burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These alarming figures were presented at a College of Health Sciences webinar on burnout among healthcare workers due to COVID-19. The panellists included Senior Psychiatrist and UKZN lecturer, Dr Saeeda Paruk; Clinical Head of Psychiatry at King Dinuzulu Hospital, Professor Suvira Ramlall; Chief psychiatrist at Ngwelezane Hospital, Dr Peter Milligan; and facilitated by Head of Psychiatry at UKZN, Professor Bonga Chiliza.
Paruk highlighted that signs of burnout usually include emotional exhaustion, feelings of detachment and negative views about one’s job. She added that anxiety is an additional problem and that there is a 15.8% prevalence of anxiety disorders among South African adults. Studies estimate that between 10 and 44% of healthcare workers suffered from anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 21% of doctors in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were found to be suffering from depression. High levels of stress have negative consequences for healthcare workers and their families, their patients and the institutions they work for.
‘Burnout has always been highly prevalent in healthcare settings. Research shows that 59% of doctors at KZN state hospitals and 46% of nurses in South Africa suffered from burnout before COVID-19 struck. These workers serve the country with courage and make sacrifices and they need to be taken care of as well,’ said Paruk.
Ramlall noted that psycho-social interventions like the Healthcare Workers Care Network provide resources for healthcare workers by healthcare workers. This national initiative includes the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the South African Medical Association and the Psychological Association of South Africa.
Ramlall has been instrumental in providing free therapy for healthcare workers, group sessions and a toll-free helpline. Workshops have also been organised for managers to equip them to assist healthcare workers. Since its launch, the network has received 1 000 calls and 200 SMSs and has provided care to 4 500 people. Ramlall added that burnout and stress among healthcare workers are not local phenomena, but a global problem.
Milligan encouraged healthcare workers to embrace self-empathy and self-compassion by giving themselves permission to take care of themselves as it is impossible to pour out of an empty glass. This includes eating well, getting enough exercise and rest, and maintaining meaningful social connections. He recommended spiritual care and psychotherapy as important tools for self-care which can help to minimise burnout and stress.
Words: Lihle Sosibo