The Covid-19 pandemic put the entire world in the grips of a tragic emergency. But it was more overwhelming for some than it was for others. The healthcare sector and healthcare workers, especially the nurses, were faced with grave challenges on a daily basis. Nurses are the first responders to medical emergencies, and are often referred to as the frontline workers.
Despite their proficiency to perform on the frontlines, the pandemic did almost break the nurses’ resilience. Unable to fully recover from exhaustion and tending to a large number of patients at once, made the situation worse. The unrelenting nature of the fight against the pandemic also took an emotional and psychological toll. Even today, while the pandemic still thrives, the nurses have little to no chance for relaxation.
The nurses are being acclaimed internationally for their efforts to maintain quality service despite various challenges. The global debate on healthcare practitioner’s rehabilitation policies is rightly deliberating on ways to facilitate nurses’ psychological well-being.
The following paragraphs will discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected nurses mentally.
1. Disturbed Sleep and Poor Diet
The schedule of frontline health workers is always full, even on normal days. They’re rarely able to cater to their personal needs, including sleep and diet. And during the pandemic, specifically, critical-care nurses, such as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, suffer the most because of immense workloads. Along with palliative care patients, they also attend to patients suffering from severe symptoms of the Covid-19.
Nurses tending to patients during the pandemic had to skip meals, went to bed late, and had little to no rest for recovery. Added to that, the nurses who provided end-of-life care to the critical patients also had to deal with the anxiety of patients dying in their arms.
In essence, this unceasing level of anxiety combined with the pressures of work greatly disturbed their diet and sleeping patterns. Though the pandemic-related disruptions may be temporary, the damage to the nurses’ psychological health may be lasting. Thus, as the situation is normalizing, hospitals should offer more relaxation to critical-care nurses. Otherwise, their fatigue might interfere with their ability to take care of patients.
2. Risk and fear of exposure
Due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, initially, there was widespread fear of exposure to the virus. The fear defined the pandemic’s first wave. Since nurses performed frontline duties, their likelihood of contracting the virus was also higher.
Hospitals, too, lacked in preparedness to deal with such a situation as protective equipment was in short supply. Tending to COVID patients without the use of protective equipment, or even the knowledge to use it, exacerbated the risks for nurses in the first wave.
As a result, several healthcare professionals contracted the virus due to unnecessary exposure in the early stages of the pandemic. A combination of a rapid rise in cases, record admission of patients, and a lack of protective measures, heightened the nurses’ stress and anxiety levels.
As the pandemic still rages on, hospitals should reexamine their protection protocols and provide nurses with counseling and emotional support.
3. Isolation from family members
Family support is invaluable during trying times. Sharing grief, sadness, or anxiety with loved ones can minimize one’s uncertainty, fear, and emotional instability. However, healthcare workers are seldom able to attend to personal affairs due to long shifts at the hospital, a situation which worsened during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This meant even longer shifts and no off days from work for the nurses. Added to that, the risk of exposing their loved ones to the virus also held nurses back from meeting loved ones. As a result of isolation from their family members and extended periods of time spent away from home, the nurses experienced psychological instability.
Today, when the worse of the pandemic seems to have passed, strict and extended work schedules for nurses continue due, in part, to the unavailability of staff. Addressing the staff-shortage challenge can free up hospitals to ease their work schedules, so that nurses can have the time to recover properly.
4. Rising Complications in Mental Health Issues
Although mental health problems are not distinctive to nurses, they are the most vulnerable given their nature of work. As such, increased workload, high levels of exhaustion, and the social pressures of being a frontline health worker, continue to take toll on their psychological well-being. Given this, their chance of developing work-related mental issues is higher than the rest of the population.
A survey conducted on the prevalence of mental health issues in nurses, in a Canadian province, revealed about 38% of nurses were suffering from anxiety and 41% reported depression. Similarly, a record number of nurses (nearly 60%) also experienced emotional exhaustion during the pandemic. The mental condition of nurses belonging to the less-developed countries was even worse.
5. Overexploitation Based on Gender
Workplace discrimination is an added challenge faced by female health practitioners everywhere. Generally, female nurses also have home-related duties in addition to their duties as medical care providers.
The rise in domestic violence incidents during the pandemic disturbed nurses’ ability to provide care to patients. Meanwhile, the economic challenge brought on by the pandemic was another challenge staring at them. Even when vaccines were made available, especially the early mRNA vaccines, they were not considered safe for expecting women.
Even when the nurses were giving their best in the workplace, ensuring that the patients received critical care, it was still not enough to guarantee them protection against discrimination and exploitation in the workplace.
It is established without any doubt that the pandemic was an unbelievably trying time for nurses. The virus exposed the lack of preparedness in our healthcare system. Despite the lack of preparation, the nurses rose to the challenge and courageously performed their frontline duties. However, their resilience is not an infinite resource, and steps should be taken by hospitals to address the problems faced by the nurses detailed in this article.