Italy, Spain ICU pressures decline, but emotional toll rises

April 08, 2020
FILE - In this March 25, 2020 file photo, medical staff tend to patients at the intensive care unit of the Casalpalocco COVID-19 Clinic on the outskirts of Rome. The pressures on intensive care units in Italy and Spain may have eased in recent days as new coronavirus cases decline, but the psychological toll the pandemic has taken on the doctors and nurses who work there is only now beginning to emerge. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)

The pressures on hospital ICUs in Italy and Spain may have eased in recent days as new virus cases decline. But the emotional and psychological toll the pandemic has taken on the doctors and nurses working there is only now beginning to emerge.

Already, two nurses in Italy have killed themselves, and psychologists have mobilised therapists and online platforms to provide free consultation for medical personnel. Individual hospitals hold small group therapy sessions to help staff cope with the trauma of seeing so much death among patients who are utterly alone.

Seven weeks into Italy’s outbreak, the world’s deadliest, the adrenaline rush that kept medical personnel going at the start has been replaced by crushing fatigue and fear of getting the virus, researchers say. With many doctors and nurses deprived of their normal family support because they are isolating themselves, the mental health of Italy and Spain’s overwhelmed medical personnel is now a focus of their already stressed health care systems.

According to his preliminary research, the solitude of the patients has had a grievous impact on doctors and nurses. They are being asked to step in at the bedside of the dying in place of relatives and even priests. The sense of failure among hospital staff, he said, is overwhelming.

In Italy, the national association of nurses and psychologists asked the government for a coordinated, nationwide response for the mental health care needs of medical personnel, warning the “typical wave of stress disturbances is only going to grow over time.”

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