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Healthcare Workers a Victim to Mental Stigma: PGI Study

The Department of Internal Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India recently conducted a study on the experience of social and emotional distancing among health care providers in the context of COVID-19 in North India.

The study revealed the bleak situation of healthcare workers in North India, who are being a victim to mental stigma with each passing day.

Conducted by Dr. Ritin Mohindra, Divyashree K, Roop Kishor Soni, Vikas Suri, Ashish Bhalla, and Shubh Mohan Singh, the study highlighted that 52.72% colleagues & peers and 49.67% people in the neighbourhood tried to avoid the healthcare workers.

The most common type of response was avoidance of interaction especially if the personnel were “frontline.” This would take place in both social situations (being asked to sit apart, people leaving as they entered the cafeteria, or lighthearted comments made in public about staying away from staff involved in direct patient care) or in work situations (being asked to leave official mail outside the door, not being allowed to enter a room or an office or being asked to wait outside, not being allowed to enter certain hospital areas even in absence of any official order).

For instance, one respondent reported, “many doctors avoid letting me in while I am helping them with file” or “The office staff won’t allow us inside and ask us to leave the documents outside” or “The technician often avoids me and prevents me from entering their room while collecting reports.” Others reported “My colleagues leaving the cafeteria when I enter. . .” or “Nonclinical departments are apprehensive as if we are walking with corona infection in our pockets.”

About 48.07% of the healthcare workers admitted that they felt anxious and worried about self and family, 16.14% felt lonely and ostracized, 17.71% experienced excessive fatigue, and 17.54% felt sad and depressed.

Many respondents wrote about how their neighbours had stopped interacting with them and had stopped parking their cars in front of their houses to avoid having to interact with them. One respondent wrote, “I am living in rental accommodation; our landlord is worried and fears stigmatization if stickers will be pasted outside their home.”

Some healthcare workers were also asked to vacate their accommodation by the landlord, or their relatives reported that their landlords had asked them to not allow the HCP to visit them. For example, one wrote, “because of repeated assault and heated argument due to this corona, I was forced to move to a temporary location. Now I have to travel double the way and come to hospital.” Some also reported that shopkeepers in the area were reluctant to serve them.

These statistics speak volumes about the stigmatized situation of healthcare workers in this part of the country.

To know more about the study, we speak to Dr. Ritin Mohindra, one of the key researchers involved in this study. Excerpts from the interview:

What was your driving force behind conducting this study?

Since the health care workers are facing the most difficult and challenging time in recent past, we conducted this study to assess and address the experience of social and emotional distancing faced by them.

What are some key insights that you discovered while working on it?

The key insights that we discovered from this study are:

People were not much aware about the dynamics of transmission of the infection, so they were trying to make an attempt to maintain distancing or avoiding the healthcare workers.·

The society as well as the family members were somewhere concerned and stressed about getting infected from the healthcare workers.·

Even colleagues and near people were avoiding meeting the healthcare workers, unless they screened negative for COVID.

How would you describe the status of healthcare workers in India during the COVID pandemic?

The healthcare workers in India are doing a tremendous job in managing the COVID-19 pandemic for the world’s 2nd largest population. Owing to the lack of resources for carrying out duties and facing differences from society, family and even colleagues, the healthcare workers are going through a lot of mental burnout, which can interfere with their performance for providing care to the patients.

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