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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Nurses Neglecting Mental Health During Pandemic

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

Results of a recent study reveal that while nurses understand the importance of their own well-being and self-care, their own needs are falling by the wayside.

The Nurse Wellbeing At Risk survey collected data from 12,071 nurses in September. Nearly 80% indicated they found their work highly meaningful, and 41% report high career fulfillment. However, only 28% of those who are highly fulfilled reported a high personal well-being, suggesting nurses may be neglecting their mental and physical needs. Sixty-five percent noted signs of stress and anxiety in fellow nurses, and 58% saw signs of work-related burnout. Less than one-fourth of respondents strongly agreed with statements such as “I am able to decompress after work,” “I have a healthy diet,” and “I exercise regularly.” Only 15% indicated they could manage feelings of burnout.

There also appears to be a generational component to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on nurse well-being. Younger nurses (ages 18-44 years) reported higher overall negative effects from the pandemic than nurses ages 45 years and older. Nurses in the older age groups appeared better able to manage feelings of burnout, practice mindfulness, decompress after work, and discuss well-being issues with their managers.

“Younger nurses cannot contextualize a moment as immense as a pandemic,” the study authors noted. “Over the decades, older nurses have been exposed to catastrophes for which younger nurses have no frame of reference. An event this overwhelming and foreign, in a clinical setting they are adjusting to, would naturally require more support and guidance to navigate.”

The awareness of healthcare worker health and well-being extending beyond physical health has gained traction in the last few years, with mental healthcare shooting to the forefront since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) authored a series of webinars and papers to help healthcare workers develop “psychological personal protective equipment (PPE)” to protect mental health. “[Psychological PPE] includes behaviors and actions to support staff, like reducing fear and anxiety, promoting psychological safety, and facilitating peer support and connections,” IHI director Jessica Perlo, MPH, told Hospital Employee Health. “These behaviors and actions will continue to be critical as the pandemic continues as more staff need mental health support.”