Throughout 2020, we were exposed to many experiences within care homes that we did not expect to witness within our roles. The fear of the virus and the fatigue that stemmed from the additional pressure was one thing. However, witnessing illness and death under such difficult circumstances is something that no one was prepared for.
As carers and nurses, we recognise that both illness and death is something that will, at times, be experienced within our role. However, it is also a part of our role that we can ensure it happens with great respect and dignity for the individual and their family. To support people during this transition can be one of the greatest privileges one can experience, ensuring that this part of care is delivered with compassion, comfort and relaxation in mind.
Throughout COVID, this became increasingly difficult for care homes across the country. Often the symptoms presented in elderly residents were sudden, with deterioration in health occurring very quickly, and in some cases multiple residents were experiencing these at the same time.
The level of illness and death witnessed under these trying circumstances has had a lasting impact on the groups of people within care homes. And in all honesty, the true and lasting impact is as yet unknown.
A member of our team recalls: ‘At times, we would leave a resident’s room with our bravest smile which was only visible through our eyes. Upon closing the door, tears rolled down our faces. This overwhelming sadness would break our hearts. As colleagues, we would comfort and support each other. We shared many tears.’
Whilst we continue within this COVID bubble, we find ourselves following the ‘heads down and get on with it’ attitude, after all, what else can we do? People still need to be cared for, and the people we care for are even more precious to us now. It is as though our shared experiences of COVID have instilled a special bond in each of us that very few will understand. Despite that, we know this bubble will eventually burst and the aftermath of COVID will be just as difficult to comprehend, but for very different reasons.
The terms ‘moral injury’ and ‘PTSD’ are being mentioned in relation to the mental health impact of COVID on the social care workforce, although only time will tell as to what extent this becomes reality. We must act now to limit the risk of lasting damage to the mental health of a workforce that have proven themselves to be invaluable.
Some of the greatest preventative practices is through the comradery of those who have shared similar experiences. Starting and ending shifts by checking in with people can add a powerful resolve and providing individuals with resource for self-help is also a deterrent.
The simple answer is that we must act now to prevent the deterioration of the mental wellbeing of a much-valued workforce. Of individuals who demonstrated resilience and bravery. These individuals are the ones who command our respect, our support, and our help.
If you are experiencing any changes in your mental wellbeing, it is important that you let it be heard. Whether it is a manager, a loved one or a colleague, or perhaps an external organisation – support is available and together we can get through this. The following designated websites can offer some guidance:
- Breathing Space – www.breathingspace.scot/
- Support in Mind Scotland - www.supportinmindscotland.org.uk/
- National wellbeing hub - www.promis.scot/
*Image courtsey of Wrexham Council News