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COVID-19 key factors of PTSD, emotional exhaustion for nurses

The joint study between the BC Nurses’ Union and researchers from the UBC School of Nursing is exposing the mental strain attributed to working as a nurse in acute, long-term care and community based settings during the global pandemic.

In a news release on the BC Nurses’ Union website, a study says that inadequate staffing and constantly changing protocols is key factors leading to high levels of PTSD and emotional exhaustion.

The joint study between the BC Nurses’ Union and researchers from the UBC School of Nursing is exposing the mental strain attributed to working as a nurse in acute, long-term care and community based settings during the global pandemic.

Of the 3,676 nurses surveyed from around BC, 41 per cent said they suffered from severe depression – compared to 31 per cent from a similar survey conducted in late 2019. Sixty per cent said they suffered from emotional exhaustion – up from 56 per cent earlier.

“Before the pandemic, we knew that nurses were being greatly impacted by the nursing shortage, suffering from significant burnout due to high workloads,” says BCNU President Christine Sorensen in the news release.

“This study offers a look at the personal and professional sacrifices nurses have made over the last six months, and the toll it is taking on them.

"Now, it’s more important than ever that mental health support is provided for nurses and all health-care workers as they brace for a COVID-19 surge this fall while attempting to meet targets in the government’s surgery re-start program.”

The study said findings also expose the heavy burden COVID-19 has placed on nurses’ personal lives with 80 per cent fearing they will contract COVID-19 at work and 86 per cent reporting they are extremely concerned about bringing the virus home to their loved ones.

The study also looked at COVID-19 training, organizational handling of the pandemic, workplace violence, and nurses’ coping mechanisms.

“While these are preliminary findings and we are continuing to analyze the data, we can already see the broad trends of worsening mental health among BC’s frontline nurses,” said principal investigator Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor at the UBC school of nursing who studies health systems and patient care.

“As a nurse and a researcher, I’m very concerned to see more nurses reporting higher levels of poor mental health, which can directly affect their ability to provide effective care, if not resolved in a timely manner.”