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ICU Nurses Report Serious Mental Health Impact from COVID-19

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Key Takeaways

  • Nurses who worked in the ICU during the COVID-19 pandemic have high levels of moral distress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.
  • Respondents reported higher levels of moral distress and burnout than those reported by ICU or trauma nurses before the pandemic.
  • Anxiety and depression were higher in nurses compared with the general population, and the risk for having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was higher than among recent veterans or patients after traumatic injury.

HealthDay News–Nurses who worked in the intensive care unit (ICU) during the COVID-19 pandemic have high levels of moral distress, burnout, anxiety, and depression, according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society 2021 International Conference, held virtually from May 14 to 19.

Jill Guttormson, Ph.D., R.N., from the College of Nursing at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and colleagues recruited a national sample of nurses who worked in the ICU during the COVID-19 pandemic to examine the impact of the pandemic on nurse moral distress, burnout, anxiety, and depression. A total of 488 U.S. critical care nurses have completed the survey to date.

Overall, 92.5% of respondents were staff nurses, and 29% were reassigned to a COVID-19 unit other than their usual ICU. The researchers found that 68% of the respondents experienced a shortage of personal protective equipment. Respondents reported higher levels of moral distress and burnout than those reported by ICU or trauma nurses before the pandemic. Anxiety and depression were higher in nurses compared with the general population, and the risk for having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was higher than among recent veterans or patients after traumatic injury. Overall, 44.6% and 31% of respondents reported symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety, respectively, and 47% were at risk for having PTSD.

“It is vitally important that we allow space and time for critical care nurses to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and that this support not stop when the pandemic is over,” Guttormson said in a statement.

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