• 25 March 2020
  • 5 min read

How Coronavirus is impacting my job as a healthcare worker in mental health

  • Anita Dibble
    Healthcare worker
"Coronavirus will exacerbate these staffing-related problems as team members are going to be self-isolating or unwell themselves."

I work for a staffing agency in mental health and this is how I'm seeing the impact of Coronavirus affect patients and colleagues.

Coronavirus lockdown measures make mentally unwell patients anxious

In our area there appears to be a lack of healthcare workers generally, even before this crisis hit.

Where I work (addiction rehab centre) there are severe mental health issues such as schizophrenia, hallucinations and borderline personality disorders, to name a few.

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak escorted leave and unassisted leave is now not allowed.

Our patients already present aggressive behaviour to staff in normal situations.

The restrictions on movement now in place have heightened their fear and anxiety which in turn creates more aggressive behaviour toward staff.

Combine that with the existing shortage of staff we can see how Coronavirus bears down and adds to the pressure of this kind of care work.

To cope with staff shortages we regularly require new agency staff.

Mentally unwell patients naturally tend to do better with consistency.

So new agency staff arrivals and staffing changes can increase their anxiety levels.

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Mentally unwell patients feel less insecure when this happens and a lack of certainty about new people around them may lead to an increased likelihood of aggressive behaviour.

Coronavirus will exacerbate these staffing-related problems as team members are going to be self-isolating or unwell themselves.

How are healthcare workers coping with the demands that Coronavirus places on staff?

All in all, this is a hard situation for many reasons.

De-escalation is happening all the time where I am.

Instances of challenging behaviour are increasing.

Various mental health issues including schizophrenia cause severe paranoia.

A new person is a threat to them.

So that new person has to go to another ward.

In turn, this encourages patients to see that they can kick up a fuss to get what they want.

To calm the situation I have seen examples of directly / indirectly letting patients have what they want. Sometimes we choose the path of least resistance to keep things calm.

I understand and am not in judgment of it.

Whichever decision you make is seldom ideal.

Sometimes, standing your ground can trigger aggression and increase the threat to staff unnecessarily. Sometimes the best option is the safest option.

However, it does encourage manipulative behaviour in patients who are prone to that as part of their diagnosis.

The impact of Coronavirus in this type of care setting increases these instances and so it can feel like we are fire fighting in this situation.

How my ward is managing its staff at this time

There are many other issues.

For a new staff member it is a strange experience - like never before.

For that reason reassuring new staff and letting them know they are protected can ease confusion.

They will know it 'isn't them’ and that is how things are - that helps them feel understood and supported.

My heart goes out to those managing this situation. At times managers can feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Often we need the best fit for the situation (not ideal, but best fit).

Those decisions will change for many situations and that does get confusing for everyone.

Mistakes will be made.

But I feel, where I am, that managers and staff are doing the best they can in a difficult situation for everyone.

I feel very positive overall but know things ahead will get tougher.

I don't think it is a bad thing to prepare for what we don't know yet.

We may get some things wrong.

But other measures and actions will be done correctly and well and prove to be very beneficial.

Staffing agencies are helping the situation on my ward

What is most important, especially for new staff, is that people have excellent support.

My own staffing agency supervisor made me feel understood and explained things.

It’s worth noting that staffing agencies and their employees are also also under immense pressure sorting DBS, references, interviews and at the same time needing to be available to support every new agency staff member.

It is a collaboration not only at the ward level but for all the agencies supplying staff to the ward.

My own experience is that the agency and ward are doing the best they can and everyone feels supported and working to shared goals.

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  • Anita Dibble
    Healthcare worker

About the author

  • Anita Dibble
    Healthcare worker

I'm a healthcare worker assisting people with mental health issues for a staffing agency. I've also been an independent custody visitor (ICV) working in custody since 2014.

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