Exposure to suffering and death can be difficult to absorb for anyone, especially frontline workers in the healthcare industry. In today’s world of rapidly increasing population and widespread diseases around the globe, the mortality rates have fallen drastically from previous years. The lack of awareness and precaution among the public has further pushed the spread of several infectious diseases, apart from the previously known illnesses that can prove deadly.
A health practitioner might face most of his/her end-of-life care experiences with patients who are either terminally-ill or are just suffering from old age. Such direct exposure to the management of the pain and suffering of another human being is a task that requires lots of experience along with mental composure. It may also cause a lot of difficulties for the patient’s family and the physicians’ mental or emotional health as they are very easily exposed.
There are a variety of challenges faced by medical practitioners dealing with end-of-life care. The type of care required by a dying person must be psychologically, emotionally, and physically friendly. It must also be a genuine attempt to understand the social experiences faced by the patient to reduce the patient’s loneliness and more. Studies have indicated that such practitioners providing end of life care mostly lack relevant training. It creates a dilemma for the care personnel to make difficult decisions in imminent death and reveal the information to the families. Similarly, the lack of preparation for a critical conversation with the patient’s family might seem complicated, along with the personal discomfort they might face. The emotional distress suffered by these health practitioners is of great importance in assessing their mental health and judging the challenges they face:
- Nervousness among critical conversations:
Studies show that there exists ordinary negligence by the experienced medical professionals in providing end-of-life care training to their less experienced colleagues. Understandably, such younger physicians might suffer from severe nervousness in critical conversations with the patient’s family. It is due to the absence of formal training and a planned course of action, in contrast to the importance given to critical procedures like surgery. With a common hesitation regarding ethical dilemmas of end-of-life decisions, it can be seen that 40% of such practitioners hesitate to train their fellow physicians about end-of-life care. It will take a toll on the emotions of the relevant personnel, and possibly disturb their mental state.
- Lack of motivation due to low financial compensation:
The need to stay motivated towards the cause of end-of-life care is essential in practice. The clinical attendee needs to remain involved in taking care of the patient, to the best of his/her capabilities. Yet, due to globally standardized low levels of salaries to such personnel, it is hard for them to stay true to the cause considering their financial needs.
- Anxiety about death:
Medical practitioners are still humans, so that they might suffer from personal anxiety regarding the loss of a patient. It might be the cause of relating to the patient’s suffering or even due to a sense of failure, not being able to save the patient.
- Unfamiliarity with personalization:
Many such practitioners face a lack of relatability to similar suffering. It causes them to often become careless towards the patients and their families.
The task of caring for a terminally ill patient requires complete and utter mental stability among end-of-life care personnel. Yet, due to the exposure to constant emotional challenges, practitioners face personal anxiety regarding death, nervousness to talk with the patient’s family, and they also tend to disturb their mental health. It is also considered wise by the end-of-life care personnel to cope with internal anxiety, bypassing the patient’s care to an alternative or specialized care. It might provide the individual with the essential time to reconsider his/her mental state and work on it to return to the job with a more robust mental structure, capable of understanding the suffering and easing it out.
It is essential to cope with emotional stress caused by end-of-life care by marking out your limitations to stay healthy as only a healthy person might be able to take proper care of the terminally-ill patients. The most widely used coping mechanism seen in such individuals is social assistance, where colleagues and close friends might be able to convince the practitioner to believe in himself. Positive self-evaluation is another way, but it requires the practitioner to be self-aware of his/her mental situation. The person might even try to lose attachment with a particular incident by remembering his/her initial motivation to opt for this career. Further, the physician might use a confrontation with the event to overcome the fear or accept the responsibility for failure and improve in the future.
Conclusively, we can say that the act of end-of-life care is a universally disheartening process, both for the families and the medical practitioners. It is a task that demands a lot of emotional insight and involvement from the physicians. Hence, it is often because of this involvement that these healthcare professionals suffer from a sea of psychological barriers that might affect their mental health. These professionals need to tackle all such problems in time to function as per their full potential. Often which is done through social support, self-evaluation, assessing personal limitations, or delegating the work.