"The quiet departure of one physician after another leaves us shocked. We empathise deeply when others pass away, but the loss of our colleagues drains our courage and patience," said Shahzad Hossain, the head of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Kurmitola General Hospital in the capital, in an emotional Facebook post in 2020. His words encapsulated the sorrow he felt for the patients and colleagues who succumbed to the grip of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Having served as the ICU head at the hospital from April 2020 to December 2022, Shahzad Hossain currently is the head and assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the same institution.
Shahzad Hossain, talking to Prothom Alo on 30 May, reflected on the sombre memories of the Covid-19 time: "The initial phase was incredibly challenging. It was a time filled with stress. As the head of the ICU, I had the responsibility to ensure the safety of the entire team. Healthcare professionals, including physicians and nurses, endured significant family, social, and emotional pressures."
A global study published online by the German journal Springer has also echoed the words of this front-line fighter of the Covid pandemic. During this deadly pandemic, the mental pressure on people engaged in the health care-related services, including physicians, has emerged in a study titled 'Results of the Covid-19 Mental Health International for the Health Professionals Study: Depression, Suicidal Tendencies and Conspiracy'.
This study was conducted at the initiative of public health and mental health experts from 40 countries around the world. Three people including a physician from Bangladesh were involved in this study.
This study, published on 3 March this year, has underlined the mental health situation of health professionals including physicians, nurses, and others involved in healthcare around the world during the Covid period. According to the report, 28.50 per cent of people associated with the health profession are suffering from anxiety and extreme depression during the Covid period. Among them, 15.19 per cent are suffering from anxiety and 13.31 per cent are suffering from extreme depression.
Separately, 28.17 per cent of physicians, about 31 per cent of nurses, about 27 per cent of other health professionals, 30 per cent of hospital administrative staff and about 33.51 per cent of other hospital workers have been suffering from anxiety and extreme depression.
The study encompassed 55,589 individuals from 40 countries, including Bangladesh. Notably, 3,033 participants were from Bangladesh, representing over 5 per cent of the total participants. In terms of participant count, Bangladesh ranked fifth among the countries involved, following Russia, Indonesia, India, and Greece. Among the total participants, there were 12,792 health professionals, with women comprising 62 per cent of this group.
According to the research report, about 81 per cent of the health professionals who participated in the study worked during Covid restrictions. A large proportion of participants stressed on increasing communication and strengthening relationships among family members. About 48 per cent said that their financial situation has worsened due to Covid.
According to the report, common people and professionals involved in healthcare have suffered from extreme anxiety, insomnia and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) during the Covid period.
Previously, there were two research studies conducted on the mental well-being of approximately 55,000 individuals. The initial study was published in October 2021, followed by the second study in June 2022, which were both published by Elsevier, a renowned Dutch academic publishing house.
In the first report, it was noted that around 25 per cent of the common participants experienced anxiety, while the depression rate was found to be around 28 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the second report portrayed a different perspective, revealing that roughly one-third of individuals suffered from varying degrees of severe stress, anxiety, and depression amidst the different levels of Covid-19 restrictions.
Sign of greater risks
Three researchers, including a physician from Bangladesh, were involved with the study published in Springer. They are National Mental Health Institute and Hospital Associate Professor Helal Uddin Ahmed, Public Health Specialist Tasdik M Hasan and Shahadat Hossain.
According to Helal Uddin, the research serves as an important early warning for addressing mental well-being in future pandemics or major disasters. The findings will guide the development of necessary services, care, awareness, and preparedness measures to safeguard mental health in response to future pandemics.
*The report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition in Bangla, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat