The UK has finally entered some form of formal lockdown phase. The government is indicating that everyone should stay at home. Some experts have suggested that this pandemic will last at least for 6 months in the UK – and now we are just getting through the first month.
I hold mixed feelings towards the development of this situation. I have to lie if I am not affected by negativity of our current situation. Long before the crisis happened, we were surrounded by many warning signs. I wrote back in January my thoughts about coronavirus outbreak in China and my worries. People here in the UK, at least most of the people were indifferent to the situation, or the potential risk that conoravirus would bring to them. It seemed normal that we did nothing. We continue to underreact to the situation, global climate.
At this time, everyone would ask the same question – what should we do? What is help even in the smallest way, but still something which helps change the situation? Using my work experience in the NHS, I hope to share about the professional response of psychology in the UK. Back in early March, I first witnessed the increasing pressure among the management teams. Next, a number of clinical staff members have isolated at home; the remaining staff began to chase after the fast moving or additional measures taking place on the wards. Within a month, I started to notice burn out signs among some very devoted staff members.
It is indeed a tough call for us on how we can balance between supporting staff/service users and promoting safety in light of the social distancing measures. A psychologist friend who works in the clinical physical health field told me that she is already told to work from home and has changed her face-to-face therapeutic contact to online contact. We shared with each other how the different settings and specialties have led to development of different decisions making or procedures even we all work under the NHS umbrella. One governmental guideline cannot rigidly fit all practices. From her perspective, she was surprised I was still working on the ward and have not reduced patient contact. She showed her concern for me as my (or the whole psychology team’s) presence which would bring imminent physical risks to the patients. I do understand where she comes from. At her workplace, physical vulnerability among patients is prioritized. We staff who come in and out of the hospital everyday can be carriers of the virus and thus we do have to minimalize such risk to the patients.
Certainly I have contemplated whether to minimalize my physical presence at the workplace so as to reduce the physical risks to the others. For my workplace, a specialized mental health service, we prioritize promotion of psychological wellbeing in this crisis situation. We foresee the upcoming complex challenges as both staff and patients will struggle with the increased stress and risk of burnout. The reduction of the number of workers available on site would cause agitation and distress among the remained clinical staff – long hours of work, emotional exhaustion and undealt worries, etc. Our service users are forced to embrace the reduced support on top of the restricted movement and routine. Our work therefore focuses on promoting a supportive work environment, sharing clear information and liaising constructive communication on exploring problem solving and coping strategies. That has led to my priority to adopt a flexible and responsive support for patients and staff. At this crisis point, we do our best to foster the collaborative spirit, as we believe that patients, despite their complex difficulties, can continue to work with us to overcome this challenging period.
‘We are sitting with a time bomb which has an unknown timer. We know it will explore. The question is when.’
I am concerned about people’s psychological problems especially in the long run. As the conoravirus situation prolongs, the negative emotions also accumulate. I am very aware of using my role to be ready to hold the situation when the breakdown happens. A fundamental element is building trust among individuals. Trust is not, and cannot be built overnight. The act of ‘doing nothing’, in fact reflects our comfortable mindset that would be able to stand together when the real crisis occurs. Actions are only for problem solving and not worthy for prevention. Think twice about our ‘doing nothing’. I try to imagine that when people’s mental health problems heighten, I would reflect to myself how absurd I have been to think of doing nothing. How can we expect people to open up only when the problem breaks out. Trust in fact needs time to be solidly built. It requires a constant effort and commitment such that people can automatically think of and turn to each another for support.
As much as realistic as I sound, I do think that at the current stage, many of us are still much stimulated by the novelty of the pandemic. Aside the frontline medical staff members or people who are directly impacted by the physical suffering, I see that many people are still getting to know the meaning of a pandemic. Frankly, as the sense of novelty fades, perhaps in a month or two, we will finally become awake of our actual bitter taste of the pandemic, and struggle to accept the reality presenting to us. The thing is, this virus is an invisible deadly weapon. When we are all restricted at home under the governmental guidelines, without seeing the actual impact – physical suffering, deaths, mental breakdowns, grief, etc., we do not and cannot comprehend the real impact of the virus. And yet we are, and will all be suffering from a global trauma. And the truth is, no one knows how to deal with this situation. Conoravirus is something we the human race at this age that have not experienced at all or able to fully grasp.
How do we move on from here?
This pandemic is definitely a shock to the world. To everyone of us. It will retract human development. Many experts have started to come forward to indicate the significant global financial recession in the long run. We foresee many more psychological issues. So far, China is recovering gradually from the crisis, and it has already been indicated that the divorce rate heightened. Although there has not been sufficient evidence to link between relationship ruptures and conoravirus, we can make a plausible suggestion that people do suffer from social distancing and many emotional difficulties as we cope with the crisis, and in many occasions when we struggle to cope ourselves, we also struggle to cope and work with another. Conflicts, lack of resilience, disagreements can lead to permanent damage in the relationships.
This pandemic will force us, whether we want it or not, to step back to reflect on the meaning of our lives. The meaning of our life beliefs and values. The meaning of being under the regional, national and global systems. We rethink of our relationship with the current medical, social and psychological care.
At this stage, I keep saying this phrase,
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
I will continue to write on the reflections and learning from this unfortunate time.
Let us get through this phase together.
Next post: What have we learnt so far?
- Life is outside our planning and expectation. As much as we expect things to happen in the way we want, or we try to plan our life in our ways, this virus has caught many of us unguarded and we are still underreacting.
- Life is really out of our control. We cannot have full grasp of what we want.
- We can take this time to think. Really think.
- We celebrate the positives gathered at this crisis point, but also reflect on why such support does not take place in the usual times.