COVID affected everything and everyone. It affected nurses and midwives deeply. We know many are still feeling the effects.
When the COVID-19 pandemic presented, we weren’t quite sure what we were facing or how we were going to get through it. The Nursing and Midwifery Health Program’s ‘can do’ attitude means we almost always find a way to help, and we believed our tried and tested service model would stand up to the demands we were about to confront. But we had no real idea how great the demand would be and how long it would last.
We knew we needed to bolster our counselling staff numbers to ensure we had enough to respond to the likely increased demand. Our board and team will be eternally grateful to the ANMF (Victorian Branch) for successfully advocating for additional state government funding to allow us to do so.
Our existing counsellors reached out through their networks and within a week we had tripled our counselling staff numbers. Overnight we converted our onsite practice to an online telehealth model, allowing our service users to receive support from the comfort of their homes. Everyone was focused on pulling together, preparing for what was ahead.
The demand was immediate. Early on, we were contacted by many practising nurses and midwives who had no idea what was happening or what they were going to do. Although scared of what they were confronting and the impact their work may have on them personally, they all expressed a commitment to roll up their sleeves and continue to do what was needed. This commitment inspired us.
Initially, many of us thought, or hoped, that the pandemic would resolve in a matter of weeks. This meant we tended to see the crisis as a sprint and we started running to the finish line. But the weeks became months and the sprint became a marathon. More and more nurses and midwives made contact with our service and their issues were serious and confronting.
We saw dedicated nursing and midwifery professionals describing the symptoms of burnout and trauma. They spoke of feeling physically fatigued and emotionally exhausted. Many said they had begun dreading going to work and were feeling anxious and depressed, had lost their appetite and were unable to sleep. They had vivid daydreams or nightmares and were worried they were losing their interest in caring for others.
Most had multiple responsibilities outside of the workplace, including remotely supporting elderly loved ones, often while managing their own significant health challenges. Many were also home-schooling their children, maintaining homes, helping in their partners’ businesses and supporting numerous friends and relatives.
Our service offered a safe, empathic, supportive and caring place where they could share their fears, concerns, frustrations and anger. When our colleagues came to us, we made sure they had a timely appointment with one of our experienced nurse or midwife counsellors. We listened with curiosity and compassion, reassuring them that we were here for them and that we would continue to hold their hands until things improved and they no longer needed us.
We validated their thoughts and feelings and gave them permission to take the time they needed. We shared practical ideas, tools and strategies to help them prioritise their own health and wellbeing and offered referrals to other services, on the rare occasions when we couldn’t meet their needs.
Since March 2020, we’ve helped close to 2,000 nurses, midwives and students in supportive one-on-one counselling relationships. Some chose to stay in the workforce and we helped them do that. Others chose to step away for a time, and we helped them do that too. We’ve also helped thousands more manage the day-to-day challenges of working and living through COVID with our preventative health resources.
COVID affected everything and everyone. It affected nurses and midwives deeply. We know many are still feeling the effects. And we know, for some, the effects will be around for a while. The good news is, so will we.
Our service is free, independent and confidential and we don’t cap the number of sessions you can have. We only see nurses and midwives and all our experienced counsellors are nurses or midwives too. They do more listening than talking and they’ll gently help you work out what you need.