How the Pandemic has Affected Nurses’ Mental Health
Month after month of working in a pandemic has had an undeniable impact on nurses’ mental health and overall well-being. Even though frontline healthcare workers have been celebrated worldwide, they still undeniably need mental health support and coping strategies in place.
Fortunately, much like smallpox and other similar diseases, COVID-19 appears to be on its way out. Unfortunately, however, it has left its mark and will continue to do so in the coming years. In this article, learn how the pandemic affected nurses’ mental health and what role healthcare facilities can play in mitigating its negative effects.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Nurses’ Mental Health
With nurses leading much of our response to the challenges the pandemic had us face, there is understandably heightened concern over nurses’ mental health. In a peer-reviewed journal published by BioMed Central, it was found that nurses felt more stressed and were less satisfied with their overall professional and personal lives than they were before the pandemic.
Experiencing psychological distress and mental health problems during a pandemic is not a new phenomenon for nurses and healthcare workers. Previous health crises, including SARS, Ebola, and MERS, have been associated with an increased risk of psychological distress. The COVID-19 pandemic was no better and on a global scale, too.
Contributors to Psychological Distress
It’s common to hear that the nursing profession alone causes psychological distress, and the pandemic exacerbated that to another level. However, the correlation between the nursing profession and mental health is not as simple as that. Let’s look at the factors that contributed to nurses’ psychological distress mentioned in a study published by the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.
- Inadequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Fear of being infected
- Fear of infecting family members, patients, coworkers, and friends
- Lack of access to COVID-19 testing
- Uncertainty of support for themselves and their family if they ever become infected
- Lack of access to flexible work structures and childcare
- Fear of litigation related to the quality of care in understaffed hospitals
- Inability to provide support for personal and family needs as work demands and hours increase
- Lack of access to consistent, timely, and up-to-date information
- Sense of isolation and frustration
- Lockdown measures and dealing with the stigma when a nurse is infected
Another study from the International Journal of Nursing Studies added to the above factors, including:
- Not having control over the number of patients coming in
- Death of nursing colleagues and coworkers
- Projected emotions from family members of patients
How Can Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations Support Nurses’ Mental Health?
With the nature of their jobs, it’s no secret that nurses experience high levels of stress and anxiety due to understaffing and heavy workloads. Making matters worse, though, many nurses have had to become first responders for patients infected with a new and deadly virus. To retain talent and reduce burnout, here are some recommended actions for nursing facilities and hospitals to support nurses’ mental health.
What to Look Out For: Know the Signs of Psychological Distress
Being a nurse means being in tune with your own health and well-being, as well as that of your patients. If you see your nurses’ mental health slipping, it may be time for them to talk to someone about getting extra support. For early intervention, here are the signs you should look out for in nurses who might be feeling unwell psychologically.
Nurses experience significantly higher levels of anxiety than professionals in other industries. The nature of nursing, as well as societal and workplace factors, all contribute to nurses’ elevated rates of anxiety.
A recent review of 65 studies involving 97,333 healthcare workers in 21 countries found a 22.1 percent anxiety prevalence among healthcare professionals during the pandemic. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and distress. Nurses who feel these effects may begin to see their performance deteriorate at work or at home may suffer.
The signs: Excessive worry about personally contracting the virus, unintentionally infecting others, and their family members getting infected
By nature, nurses are people who care. They offer support and nurturing to patients and their families in various environments, from hospitals to schools to assisted living facilities.
Being around sick people day in and day out can definitely take a toll on a nurse’s mental health. Depression has a 21.7 percent prevalence rate among healthcare professionals during the pandemic.
The signs: Trouble concentrating at work, fatigue from working long hours, being unable to sleep, being withdrawn from social circles, and showing little to no emotion when patients with COVID-19 pass away
A pandemic is stressful enough, but it can contribute to nurses’ burnout. Many nurses feel that their well-being and happiness are neglected by employers during a pandemic.
In a study published in March 2022 which aims to determine the prevalence of burnout among nurses before and during COVID-19, a high-level burnout rate of 70.5 percent was found among the 146 nurses who participated. Nurses younger than 60 displayed higher emotional exhaustion as well as other burnout symptoms compared with older age groups.
Another review across 16 studies conducted in 2021 found that nurses reported an overall prevalence of emotional exhaustion at 34.1 percent, depersonalization at 12.6 percent, and lack of personal achievement at 15.2 percent.
The signs: All of the above-mentioned symptoms of anxiety and depression, frustration with work, chronic fatigue, isolation, and detachment from family and friends
Foster a Psychological Safe Work Environment
Create an environment of trust and support to promote a psychologically safe workplace. This starts with transparent communication and obtaining insights into your nurses’ experiences that can help you identify needs and offer mental health support.
Discuss challenging situations that may cause mental and emotional distress for your nurses by creating focus groups. Integrate pandemic planning into your existing and future training programs. Provide exposure for managing both patient care and self-care amid a pandemic.
It is hard for anyone to come right out and say that they feel depressed, anxious, stressed out, or have any other sort of mental health issue. It’s often a lonely and isolating experience for those who suffer, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The barriers to self-reporting are the perception of being devalued, dismissed, and dehumanized. The fear of being perceived as less competent or reliable is also a significant barrier to seeking much-needed help. Incorporate de-stigmatization in your training and encourage open discourse and sharing of personal experiences in the context of mental health.
It is important to provide a safe and supportive environment that encourages nurses to self-disclose mental health needs. Empower nurses to get help when they need it, so they can come back stronger with the added benefit of improving patient outcomes.
PRS GLOBAL IS YOUR DIRECT HIRE STAFFING PARTNER IN TODAY’S TRYING TIMES
As we move toward a new tomorrow, PRS Global can help you get access to a global pipeline of nurses that can help your healthcare organization be the best that it can be. Through our sourcing and direct staffing capabilities, we are committed to helping you cultivate a diverse, lively, and psychologically safe work environment.
It is PRS Global’s mission to ensure that your skilled nursing facilities and hospitals are sufficiently staffed with highly trained, competent, committed, ethical, and compassionate registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses. We are the bridge connecting American healthcare organizations with nurses around the globe.
Get in touch with PRS Global, your trusted and competent global nurse direct staffing partner, today!