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Who takes care of those who heal?


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Diario de Navarra, El Día and El Diario Montañés

Gerardo Castillo Ceballos

School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Health professionals are currently exposed to the deterioration of their mental health due to several circumstances: the close relationship with patients infected with covid-19, the lack of time for personalized consultations, the fear of disappointing patients who expect everything from them, the incomprehension of patients who attribute to them deficiencies beyond their control, the incoherence of people who applaud them from the balconies, but shun them as dangerous neighbors.

Behind this problem is the scarcity of means and resources to carry out its work, as reflected in a very recent press release: "The government continues to break its promise; the expense in Health and Education is reduced for the second consecutive year". It would be enough to eliminate other government expenditures, such as the Ministry of Equality itself, to put an end to the cuts in health.

These factors originated during the covid-19 pandemic, but they are still in place. Although the number of infections has decreased considerably thanks to successive vaccinations, they have not completely disappeared. The work of healthcare workers (doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff ) continues to be physically and psychologically exhausting and stressful, causing behavioral problems such as burnout, anxiety and depression. Burnout (burned-out worker syndrome) is a term coined by the American psychiatrist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, to express the experiences that a professional has when he/she realizes that the goals set are impossible to achieve; there is a difference in expectations between the ideal that he/she had as a professional and what actually happens.  

In spite of feeling stressed, many give up early retirement, perhaps because they think it would stress them even more to abandon their patients to their fate, due to the progressive reduction of the staff healthcare workforce. They are held back by loyalty to their professional vocation and the ethical values of the Hippocratic commitment, including these three: "I will devote my life to the service of humanity; I will have the utmost respect for human life and dignity; if the day comes when my knowledge or my physical or sensory Schools are not suitable for professional practice, I will not give it up voluntarily".

In a society with a crisis of values, in which utilitarianism and individualism prevail, the exemplary behavior of health professionals in extreme situations challenges us and financial aid us to regain faith in the human being. It speaks to us of sacrifice and generosity, to the point of risking one's own life to save that of others. "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:9-17). Healthcare workers are the heroes of our time. They deserve what they rarely receive: recognition, gratitude and partnership from everyone.

José A. Florez Lozano, expert in Behavioral Sciences, has warned about the mental health problem of current healthcare professionals who continue to face work stressors such as prolonged work conference , overload of work and medicine on the edge. It is not strange, therefore, the presence of different symptoms of psychic discomfort. For his part, Dr. Serafín Romero Agüit, President of the Spanish Medical Association, gave a talk at lecture on "El enfermar del médico: ¿cómo prevenir y abordar entre pares?" (The doctor's illness: how to prevent and deal with it among peers). In it he explained that most people are afraid of illness, because they live with it on a daily basis. He added that the mental health of physicians is at a critical moment.

It is necessary to take care of those who heal us, providing them with the psychological financial aid characteristic of warm human relationships. They should feel the empathy, understanding and solidarity of both their colleagues and their patients. I agree with the psychiatrist Rosa G. Esteban that there is an urgent need for greater support from political and medical leaders on the institutional variables that generate anxiety in physicians. This includes encouraging the participation of Health Center professionals in decision making and giving them more time for attention staff with patients. The law framework of labor prevention of 1995 already contemplated, in some way, this need.