Rolling Hill nursing

A Discussion of Mental Health for Nurses and Healthcare Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic


APRIL, 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted the lives of every single person on Earth at least to some degree. While millions of people have lost their jobs and even more are staying home in isolation and quarantine, the healthcare workers, store clerks, and others providing essential services are still showing up to work and being seen as heroes.

Nurses are now being touted as frontline soldiers and the heroes on the battlefront of coronavirus. The metaphor that is being drawn is that these nurses and healthcare workers are being sent into battle, often without the proper “armor” or personal protective equipment (PPE) to stay safe while performing our duty. The general public is seeing the impenetrable and stalwart faces of nurses and other healthcare workers.

Among many of my coworkers and other nurses I know, is that this is a facade that is being portrayed in the media and that most of these nurses are exhausted and vulnerable. The general attitude that I hear on the internet is that we nurses do not want to be heroes anymore and we did not sign up to be soldiers. We signed up to be healers, carers, and helpers. We did not enlist to literally put our lives at risk due to lack of equipment and planning.

The general picture of nurses being portrayed may look strong, but these extreme work conditions have an acute and potentially chronic impact on the mental health of nurses across the globe. This is especially true if we do not allow for these nurses to express their vulnerability and receive the necessary support we deserve.

Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to any nurse. It can happen at any point in your career – even for new nurses!

Read one of my other posts with a new tool from renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Heim, to prevent burnout.

There are two articles that I want to use as the foundation for discussion in this post. They are both short reads, but hold a lot of great information. Click the links to check them out and then join the discussion in the comments below!

Jessica Gold, M.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and has built her career on listening and observing. In her article, Gold describes that the lack of PPE not only affects the physical well-being of nurses, but is also absolutely detrimental to the mental health of nurses as well. 

The lack of PPE brings a deep seated fear of becoming infected, spreading the infection to others including their own family members, and potentially death. Seeing as healthcare workers are becoming infected world wide at staggering numbers, and many of them are even dying from COVID, the fear is very well founded.

Whether you are a nurse on the “frontline” in the ER, ICU, designated COVID unit or you are moderately separated from direct COVID care, all nurses are feeling some degree of anxiety and stress. 

I work in ambulatory oncology and my coworkers and I all struggle daily with the fear of the pandemic spreading through our very vulnerable patient population. There is also an underlying fear and anxiety of when the surge will happen in our community and we are pulled to the floor to help manage the influx of patients. 

Gold describes a general feeling of “impending doom and an existing gloom that is both physically and psychologically palpable.” I fully agree with this statement and can attest that this feeling is rife at my facility. 

The tasks and skills that we nurses do every single day suddenly feel more difficult than ever. My motivation to go above and beyond and maintain a cheery disposition suddenly delves into a general notion of wanting to just complain. The fun and rapport that is typically felt between all of my coworkers feels slightly strained. The article from New Thing Nurse by Sarah describes this overwhelming feeling like “walking through waist-deep mud.”

Every single one of us is feeling stress and anxiety related to COVID for innumerable reasons. Gold really does describe it best as a sense of “impending doom.” It is a vast uncertainty and grief from the loss of normalcy.

Nurses are faced with the fact that we have no idea when things might get better and when things might get worse. Some nurses are making the hard decision to isolate themselves from their families to reduce the risk of bringing it home. 

This isolation and separation can lead to many mental health issues like stress disorders, depression, and even alcoholism according to Gold. Many nurses feel like they can’t confide in their non-healthcare related loved ones because they can’t understand the stress and hardship that we are feeling right now. 

Sarah’s article in New Thing Nurses describes so accurately and completely whhat many nurses are feeling right now. Her honest and raw reflection of not knowing how to answer the simple question of “how are you?” helps show the true vulnerability that nurses are feeling. 

The world needs to see and know that even though nurses are showing up to help fight COVID, we also sometimes need help, too. It would be great if we woke up tomorrow and every nurse and healthcare worker had access to all of the appropriate PPE they need. Even though it might just be wishful thinking, nurses can at least receive help in other ways.

Gold urges for “deploying [the] psychiatric workforce” and providing services for anything from preventative measures to treatment. Sarah also discusses that there is nothing wrong with getting a little extra help if you need it.

Maybe you don’t need these services necessarily and are able to cope in a healthy manner, and that is absolutely wonderful. But for the nurses who may need that extra little bit of mental health assistance, it’s ok. 

I absolutely love this quote from Gold’s article: “Mental health cannot be an afterthought in coping with a pandemic.” We need to take this seriously and reflect that maybe we could handle this pandemic a little better by building resilience and having resources to do that.

At the end of Sarah’s article she has curated a list of available resources to help you get through this. I have also found some additional resources that we could all benefit from. New Thing Nurse is also organizing PPE donation and distribution to help healthcare workers everywhere! Support them in this effort if you can or request if you need!

Mental health is so important. If we aren’t psychologically strong during this time, our ability to care for our patients will inevitably be affected as well. 

Remember, we are a community and together we are so much stronger. Support each other and make sure your fellow nurses are doing OK. Share these resources with anyone and everyone you think might benefit. Stray strong, stay healthy – physically and mentally.

Please join the conversation in the comments below. Share this link with anyone you think would benefit.

How are you feeling right now? 

Do you feel supported? How can I help support you?

What resources have you been relying on?

What are your coping mechanisms?

As always, I would love to connect with you on social!

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