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The mental toll for health workers on Spain's coronavirus frontline

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By Euronews
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Pablo Celik, nurse at La Paz Hospital in Madrid
Pablo Celik, nurse at La Paz Hospital in Madrid   -   Copyright  euronews
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When the nightly applause brought some comfort to Spain's frontline health workers, nothing could ease the pain of not being able to save more lives.

A year ago, hospitals in the country were overwhelmed as the pandemic hit. There were shortages of personal protective equipment and, in a lot of cases, doctors had to prioritise treatment to the most viable patients.

All this has taken a toll on health workers' mental health.

Pablo Celik is a nurse at La Paz Hospital in Madrid. He worked on the COVID-19 frontline and said he had no idea the impact it would have on him mentally.

Since his time on the frontline, Pablo says he has been experiencing inner anguish and a lack of breath. He feels there wasn't much he could do as a nurse except take care of people in their last days and give them "the love they needed".

'The only choice was to cry on the way home from work'

As well as the strain of work, health workers were also plagued with fears of falling ill or infecting their families.

Keeping loved ones away from their daily trauma was a job in itself.

"You’re fighting against the disease and they know you can get infected," said Maria José Garcia, secretary-general of the SATSE nurses union in Spain. "On top of that, when you get home, you can't tell them what you are going through at the hospital, you can't do that. So you have no other choice than to cry on your way home from work."

Secretary-General of the SATSE Nurses Union, Spain
Maria José GarciaSecretary-General of the SATSE Nurses Union, Spain

Survey reveals mental health toll

A survey by the MindCovid project shows that one-in-three Spanish health workers suffered from depression after COVID-19's first wave.

Half of them have required professional mental health assessments, according to the research.

One-in-four also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to those who have been in war zones.

In La Paz Hospital, they knew they had to give psychological support to their staff from day one.

María Fe Bravo is the head of the psychiatric service at the hospital.

"It’s as important to take care of the patients who are sick as it is to take care of the professionals taking care of them so that they are really able to look after the sick properly," she said.

It was only after the first wave that Pablo decided to seek help. Before that, he didn't have the strength, nor the time to do otherwise.

Now he attends the weekly mindfulness sessions at the hospital.

Beatriz Rodríguez Vega, head of the psychotherapy unit at La Paz, describes this activity as "connecting with our inner strength, not just with the vulnerable side that has appeared in all of us, but the strength that can come out of this vulnerability".

This story is part of a series of healthcare-related articles that Euronews will publish between March 29 and April 2.