Nursing And COVID-19: The Pandemic’s Mental Health Toll on Nurses : Nurses are the building blocks of the healthcare industry, and the recent pandemic of COVID-19 proved it so. It is commendable how frontline healthcare workers handled the threatening situation, putting their lives on the line and working countless clinical hours.
Because of the unexpected number of patients brought on by an infectious virus, the hospital staff lacked. But the nursing staff did everything in their control to continue with the momentum of quality care provided at their centers.
Long hours of work, frantic routine, and unprecedented pressure put the physical health of healthcare workers at stake and worsened their mental health. Several researchers conducted studies to analyze and estimate the damage of such uncertain work-life on the psychological health of nurses. Unfortunately, every one of them depicted deteriorating wellbeing linked with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. There’s no doubt that the pandemic took a toll on nurses and their mental health. But what might be the reasons behind it? Let’s have a look at some of them suggested by studies:
Worsening Sleeping Quality
Even before the pandemic, research studies were proving that nurses are usually sleep-deprived. Their hectic routine and long clinical work shift compel them to compromise their sleeping schedule. On average, a nurse usually gets around seven hours of sleep before a workday. With their continuous and elongated work schedules and educational expansion, they barely get time to relax. However, many have suggested that online programs like online nursing masters have helped them maintain work-life balance more efficiently due to the flexibility. However, ever since the pandemic, they’re barely getting four hours of sleep during the day. Their responsibilities require them to contribute after-work hours at the hospital or take up night duties. And, the traumatic medical events they go through during the day often lead to PTSD and insomnia, causing difficulty in falling into a peaceful sleep. It has further increased their exhaustion, leading to anxiety and depression.
Lack of Adequate PPE
One of the unavoidable reasons behind the inconsistent mental health of frontline workers, especially nurses, is that the government fails to fulfill their requirements. Since the pandemic, all nurses have received orders to improve service quality and reduce patient mortality. It was evident that even during a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hospital staff, hospital authorities sent nurses to serve the patients, risking their lives. They live in constant fear of catching the infectious disease or transmitting the virus to their family. They are also reluctant to showcase this fear because of their social desirability. But the continuous worry and anxiousness have led to stress, which is impacting their psychological wellbeing immensely.
Absence of Emotional Support
The epidemic of Corona Virus represented a time of uncertainty and vagueness. People were put into strict lockdowns and relied on emotional support from their families. However, there was an evident absence of emotional support for nurses because they could not spend time with their families. Even during their non-work hours, they chose to stay at the hospital to protect their family members from catching any hospital infections. Some hospitals also required their nurses to remain at the workplace to limit being carriers of the virus. The fear of spreading the infectious disease in their homes kept them away from their children, spouses, and parents for several days. It was a significant stress factor causing depression due to loneliness. The female nursing staff was the most prominent victim because staying away from home could not fulfill their usual house chores. Mother nurses dealt with infected patients day and night while worrying about their children at home. It took a significant toll on their mental health and left them without sturdy emotional support.
Tiresome Physical Activities
Nurses’ professions require them to be on their feet for several hours a day. They traveled from one room to the next to complete their rotations, conduct patient tests, and collect reports. It consumes a lot of their physical energy and exhausts them. But, during the pandemic, their duties and demand for mobility increased at an unmatchable rate. The rise in the number of patients and managing each record of them, having check-ups routinely on them, and often losing them even after doing everything in their hand. The heavy PPE they have to put on every time they meet a new patient is wearing enough itself. Unfortunately, even after completing their clinical work hours, they hardly get any time to rest. When the body is tired, the mind becomes tired. Hence, physical weakness and exhaustion have led to the compromised mental health of many nursing staff. They are often found low on energy, which directly impacts their mood and causes depressive episodes.
Hospitals should conduct programs and set strategies that provide support to their nursing staff at work. Nurse leaders also need to develop plans to ensure that their team works in a safe and friendly environment. Conclusively, the worsening mental health of nursing staff should be a concern for the hospital authorities, as their wellbeing directly reflects on patients’ care. If the nurses are not feeling well, their performance is going to lag.
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