It's not like anything we've ever experienced – Mental Health At Work
07/07/2020

It’s not like anything we’ve ever experienced

Denise Birkett

Samaritans volunteer and Ward Sister on a respiratory ward affected by coronavirus

As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.

Denise Birkett, a Samaritans volunteer and a Ward Sister on a respiratory ward that was affected by coronavirus, tells us a bit about her experiences.


I work on a respiratory ward and our first case of COVID-19 was in February and we have now been clean for couple of weeks. It’s not like anything we’ve ever experienced. All of a sudden it was super acute. We saw people coming into the hospital in their 30s, 40s and 50s plus and seeing them deteriorate was so hard. The quicker that people got intubated, the quicker they were moved off the ward. Yes, we’re clean now, but someone could still come in with COVID-19 and we would be back in that very weird time.

We did see patients go home and that's what kept the team morale up

We did see patients go home and that’s what kept the team morale up. The teamwork became stronger, but staff got ill as well. I’ve not had it yet but the first couple of weeks we didn’t know what protection we needed as we were all learning. When a team member was ill themselves or if they had a member of their family with symptoms, they couldn’t work so we had a lower number of staff on the ward. Morale was very good, considering, because everyone pulled together. We’re a big strong team and we’ve been an established ward for many years.

I’ve been a Samaritans Samaritans Samaritans provides emotional support to anyone who is struggling to cope. View organisation volunteer for three years this year and I really enjoy it, so I have continued with my shifts during the pandemic too. I like chatting to different people and listening to other people’s worries. It’s so interesting because you soon realise that what worries one person is completely different to another. The volunteer experience is so different all the time. A lot of calls are mental health related as there isn’t enough support for them, particularly during the pandemic, so it’s great that we are there to listen.

It’s been so important to be there for these people and I just continued to listen as I always did

The calls we receive can be a real mixed bag, anything from debts to annoying neighbours, housing, a death in family and over the last few months, coronavirus. We were getting more coronavirus worries and some people were concerned that they had it. It’s been so important to be there for these people and I just continued to listen as I always did. There were a lot of unknowns and some fear from what people were reading about it in the media. It’s been very hard for people that haven’t been able to see their GPs or other regular support.

A man uses a helpline for support.

When I joined Samaritans, I was thinking about how I could spend my time when I retire, and this seemed like a great thing to be able to do with my time. I decided to start before then, so that I’ve got time to develop my listening skills and bring experience to the role. It’s another outlet that allows me to mix with different people from different areas, with different stories to tell. My children are older now, so it’s nice to be able to give back to society and learn new skills.

You don't know what's going on behind other people's closed doors

Samaritans is so important right now because it’s open to anybody. It’s a confidential, free service​Samaritans helpline Web page 0 0The Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day, providing a one-to-one listening service for anyone experiencing distress.Free By: Samaritans View resource that anyone at any time can call. It’s open to all and it’s a great service. You don’t know what’s going on behind other people’s closed doors. What is a concern to one is irrelevant to another. The free service and availability is so important to everyone, including keyworkers.

Read more stories from workers on the frontline during the pandemic.