China’s National Health Commission is urging medical institutions around the country to provide psychological support to medical personnel on the forefront of the coronavirus outbreak. With thousands of cases confirmed and fatalities mounting, the mental health of front-line medical workers, including hospital personnel and disease control personnel, is considered as high risk as that of patients with confirmed cases of the virus.
In a set of guidelines released on Monday, the commission observed that the health of medical personnel is particularly at risk from overwork, and directed hospitals to provide their front-line staff with stress management training and psychological support. The guidelines also included recommendations to provide reasonable scheduling and logistical support to reduce the burden, suitable rest areas for staff, and even accommodations near the hospital if necessary, to cut down on travel times.
However, the need for additional psychological care for patients, medical workers, and the families of the affected at this time is likely to further strain the healthcare system. Despite government efforts to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues, mental health care in China still faces multiple challenges, including a severe shortage of trained professionals. WHO data indicates that the ratio of psychiatrists to the general population is at least four times lower than the global average. In addition, persistent social stigma around mental health disorders has led to a very low rate of recognition and a low consultation rate, meaning that people suffering from psychological issues are unlikely to seek treatment.