Managing pandemic influenza in general practice

A guide for preparation, response and recovery
6.7 Mental health and psychological support
☰ Table of contents

Typically the focus of pandemic preparedness and response is on physical health. However, disease outbreaks do not just affect the physical health of communities; pandemics can cause significant anxiety and stress and affect the mental health of patients and staff.

This can be exacerbated by disruption to people’s lives (eg. travel restrictions, school closures, having to take time off work to care for others, supply shortages, financial strain) and difficulty accessing medical support at a time when practices may be overwhelmed by large numbers of patients presenting.

Anxiety and stress can lead to changes in behaviour for staff and patients. Anxious and stressed patients may place extra demands on clinical and non-clinical staff in both the practice and home care environments. Patients may become more demanding of reception staff, and training in management of difficult patients may be useful. Staff will also have their own needs and concerns during this time. Providing care to ill patients presents a range of potentially hazardous exposures for general practice staff. Some staff may not want to work during the pandemic and this may place greater loads on those who are working.

Identify groups (including staff) that may need psychosocial support during a pandemic and the support organisations that could assist (eg. elderly and food support agencies, home nursing service, Red Cross calls, other government or local social assistance organisations). Also plan for referral pathways to culturally appropriate social services as needed.

See the Australian Psychology Society (APS) tip sheets for information about how to psychologically prepare for a disaster.