When all else fails

By Sarah RaparoliLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

It seems as if there has never been so much talk about mental health as since the beginning of the pandemic. However, one professional group is often forgotten in these discussions: health workers. About exhaustion, stress-resistant workers and their employers who (should) fight for the well-being of their people.

"I never know what to expect." This is what Bea (name changed by the editors) says at the beginning of our conversation, even though she has been working in the profession for 21 years. Bea is a nurse on a rehabilitation ward. "Is your patient's condition deteriorating or not? Is an emergency coming in or not? You can't know that in advance. Of course, that uncertainty makes your stress levels skyrocket." What helps is dividing up the work, as she elaborates. "It means that I don't have to do everything on my own to get the patient well. I take care of him until my shift is over. Then someone else comes in and continues my work." Still, the last few months have taken a toll on her. "Of course, I am proud of my work. Of course, I was happy when people clapped for us in the evening, but all the more work we did took the last of our strength in the end", Bea says.

In the beginning, pride prevailed; she didn't really notice that her mental state was gradually deteriorating. "You don't sleep anymore, you have other worries, like your own children who are suddenly home schooled. At some point your battery doesn't charge anymore." Besides the seemingly endless shifts and hours at the hospital, she says one part of the job was particularly bad – being banned from visiting hospitals. "I learnt to do my job properly. However, I did not learn to tell people not to visit their loved ones. This destroyed me mentally." She describes the last few months as individual small drops that eventually broke the camel's back. "Suddenly, nothing works. You become apathetic."

She recalls one patient. "He was given a medicine over a few hours. I had forgotten to write this down. It's a natural act: you write everything down. I blamed myself so much that I had just forgotten to do that." This had been one of those little drops that had "thrown her off track a lot". She also noticed something that she describes as "particularly blatant": The fact that female colleagues at work were having more and more difficulty getting pregnant. "Health workers are so stressed", is her explanation. "This also affects their desire to have children. It takes them much longer to get pregnant. Then there are also those who have a miscarriage and have to cope with that, on top of all the other stress they have to deal with."

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