As COVID-19 Lingers On, Its Mental Health Toll on Nurses Grows

Published on May 6, 2020
Mountainside Canaan Aerial Shot

Canaan, CT – This National Nurses Week (May 6th-12th), Mountainside thanks nursing
professionals across America for the lifesaving care they provide. This
observance is also a solemn reminder about the heightened sacrifices that
nurses make every day, especially in the age of COVID-19, when meeting the
needs of patients potentially means firsthand exposure to the deadly virus.

Aside from fears about nurses and healthcare providers becoming
physically ill, there are concerns about the mental health burdens shouldered
by those on the front lines of the crisis. A 2020
journal study
surveyed over 1200 healthcare workers across 34 hospitals in
China at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. The researchers found
that 50 percent of participants experienced depression, 45 percent suffered
from anxiety, and 72 percent reported feeling distressed. Nurses and those
caring for COVID-19 patients were more likely to experience these adverse
outcomes than physicians and those caring for patients with other conditions.

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to extend beyond
the factors measured in the study. Trauma
is expected to impact essential healthcare workers in the aftermath of the
virus. Many may likewise experience the onset or worsening of alcoholism and
drug addiction, as one
in five people
dealing with mental health disorders such as anxiety and
depression also struggle with substance use disorders.

“At this time, stress, anxiety, and worry are running high.
We know that people are more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs when they are
in distress, and healthcare workers are people, too. It’s possible we could also
see an increase in the rate of substance abuse among healthcare workers as the COVID-19
pandemic unfolds,” says Ashley McGee, Director
of Nursing at Mountainside. “It’s critical for nurses to not only care for
their patients but also to check in with their own mental health.”

In 2017, well before COVID-19, the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental
Health Services estimated that ten
percent of nurses struggled with drug and alcohol addiction
. Before the
pandemic, nurses already faced unique risk factors for addiction, including
burnout and close proximity to pain medications. Now, many also have to contend
with a lack of personal protective equipment, even longer shifts, a rising
death rate they may feel powerless to stop despite their best efforts, and isolation
– each of which can compound their stress.

For employers, being receptive to the needs of nurses and
recognizing the difference they are making is vital. “In our detox unit, we’ve
strengthened our efforts to maintain staff morale and keep the team connected
by having more frequent check-in calls and team-building activities,” says
McGee. “We encourage our nurses to recharge once they leave work by focusing on
family and taking time for self-care.”