Survey: Rio firefighters report fear, increased drug use in pandemic

A study was conducted on agents’ mental health and quality of life

Published in 23/06/2022 - 15:17 By Akemi Nitahara - Rio de Janeiro

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in Brazil in March 2020, military firefighters in Rio de Janeiro reported a significant increase in the occurrence of psychiatric disorders. Figures can be found in an unprecedented survey on mental health and quality of life conducted last year and released this week.

The study focused on the influence of the global health outbreak on agents’ family life and gauged their feelings before and during the pandemic—i. e. which symptoms the professionals experienced before and during the COVID-19 situation. Of all respondents, 69.8 percent stated the pandemic had a negative impact and 30.2 percent described its impact as positive.

The complaint with the biggest surge was fear of contamination and death—with 595 percent more mentions during the health emergency period—followed by lack of eating control, up 337 percent.

Frequent use of medication rose by 233 percent, irritability or aggressiveness 156 percent; alcohol and drug use 137 percent, suicidal ideation 103 percent, and sleep disturbances leaped 97 percent.

The questionnaire was available online from July to November, the peak of contamination with the delta variant of Sars-Cov-2, to be answered voluntarily and anonymously. Approximately 1,400 firefighters answered the survey—12 percent of the body’s active force, which encompasses 12 thousand agents.

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Lieutenant–Colonel Eliane Cristine, head of the Disaster Psychology division of the Military Fire Department of Rio de Janeiro state (CBMERJ), one of the authorities responsible for the research, explained that the survey aimed to obtain indicators on the performance of the firefighters’ multidisciplinary health team—the first to be called in disaster situations. The pandemic is considered a disaster of biological origin, she pointed out.

“We were facing a pandemic with a significant impact on, and several changes to, our routine, so we wanted to understand how much agents were being affected in the context of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Since it’s a disaster situation, it was up to them to take up this task.”

The results reflect the general feeling shared by society at large, Eliane Cristine argued. “The biggest fear regarding the pandemic, the coronavirus, and the Delta variant was fear of dying. With us, it was no different.”

The survey, she went on to report, provided the basis for the creation of itinerant project Salvare, slated to begin on July 6, including visits by the multidisciplinary team to the 33 specialized barracks and quarters across the state.

Salvare is a project that values the lives of military firefighters. It’s a prevention project with a space provided for the military to have their voice heard, where they can share any issues regarding their emotions—a practice they’re not engaged in at anytime, anywhere, with everyone.”

To evaluate the outcome of the initiative, the survey will be carried out again later this year.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Lílian Beraldo

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