Burnt-out health workers struggle with mental burdens | Inquirer News

Burnt-out health workers struggle with mental burdens

/ 04:55 AM November 01, 2023

ONCALL In this June 2020 photo, healthworkers are on standby to helpCOVID-19 patients at a quarantine facility set up at the Philippine Arena complex in Bocaue, Bulacan. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

ON CALL | In this June 2020 photo, health workers are on standby to help COVID-19 patients at a quarantine facility set up at the Philippine Arena complex in Bocaue, Bulacan. (File photo NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Severe burnout from working long hours in hospitals for so little pay is triggering anxiety and depression among the country’s healthcare workers.

Worse, “a lot or most of health workers, particularly those in the rank and file, are not given the opportunity to voice out their concerns,” said Dr. Reden Bersaldo, chief of hospital at Davao Oriental Provincial Medical Center (DOPMC).


“They don’t have a venue to vent their frustrations in the workplace,” he said during a webinar marking the end of the National Mental Health Month celebration on Tuesday.


Bersaldo continued: “Almost all of them complained of being tired, overworked, and underpaid, with delayed salaries.”

Such conditions call for an institutionalized mental health program within healthcare institutions, as “it is the workforce that will propel everything into the right places,” he said.

“To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the mental welfare of my employees before. Although we have been doing team building and meetings, there was no specific program for mental health,” said Bersaldo, who has been at the helm of the DOPMC in Mati City for nearly six years.

This gap in addressing the mental health issues among his colleagues pushed Bersaldo to initiate a mental health wellness hub called “Selah” in August.

“When the pandemic came, a lot of us (health workers) had isolation, anxiety and depression. That’s when the Mental Health Act first came to my attention,” he recalled, referring to Republic Act No. 11036 enacted in 2018.

Fear of being judged

And “when the pandemic started to ebb,” said Bersaldo, “I decided to continue this kind of program.”


For Dr. Vanessa Bullecer, a medical officer at Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC), the heavy “load,” or the surge of patients in public health facilities, remains “one of the major challenges” that result in mental burdens among health workers.

But the stigma, or the “fear of being judged or being [perceived as] not strong enough to handle such problems,” worsens the mental well-being of healthcare workers, she told the same forum.

Both the DOPMC and the ZDSMC have created “wellness rooms,” where personnel can take downtime and avail themselves of therapy and counseling sessions.

At the DOPMC, health workers can have access to the room at any time, “as long as they’re not on duty, to have ‘me time’ to relax, and have food, coffee, watch movies, [listen to] music, or just talk,” said Bersaldo.

As for those working in other hospitals that have yet to establish such programs, Dr. Constancio Paubsanon Jr., program manager at the National Center for Mental Health, advises that they engage in self-care “because when we have poor self-care, that’s when mental health issues tend to manifest.”

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‘Behavioral nudges’

In February, the Department of Health launched the “Superhealers Playbook,” a guide on implementing the “wellness movement” for hospital workers through “behavioral nudges.”

Studies on the impact of difficult working conditions on healthcare practitioners showed that many of them developed mental health issues during the pandemic.

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One study in 2020 among staff of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila recommended “relevant mental health and wellness program and regular monitoring of their general well-being.”

TAGS: health workers, mental health

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