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COVID-19: psychological distress higher for nurses than their colleagues – review

Examination of pandemic studies says mental health effects could last for up to three years

Examination of pandemic studies says mental health effects could last for up to three years

Nurses are more at risk of experiencing psychological distress during a pandemic than other healthcare workers, and its effects can last for up to three years, suggests a review of global research .

University of Sheffield reviewers examined 139 studies that were carried out between 2000 and November 2020. Another key finding was that female healthcare workers were more likely to have stress-related concerns than men during a pandemic.

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Examination of pandemic studies says mental health effects could last for up to three years

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Nurses are more at risk of experiencing psychological distress during a pandemic than other healthcare workers, and its effects can last for up to three years, suggests a review of global research.

University of Sheffield reviewers examined 139 studies that were carried out between 2000 and November 2020. Another key finding was that female healthcare workers were more likely to have stress-related concerns than men during a pandemic.

The studies included information from 143,246 nurses and other healthcare workers in 34 countries who were working during the COVID-19, SARS, bird flu, swine flu and Ebola outbreaks.

Among the studies, 34 examined the link between job roles and psychological distress. Of these, 16 revealed that nurses working during an outbreak experienced higher levels of stress, burnout and anxiety compared with other healthcare workers.

Gender difference regarding distress in the workplace

Ninety of the studies investigated gender as a possible risk factor for distress among healthcare workers during a pandemic. Of these, 57 noted that women were more likely to experience distress than men when working during an infectious outbreak.

The reviewers suggested that their findings may be explained because nurses tend to be female, ‘have higher workloads and have more patient contact than any other healthcare workers’.

Kim Sunley

RCN national officer for health and safety Kim Sunley said: ‘It must be a priority for employers and government to protect both their [nurses’] physical safety and mental health now and in the future.’

She added that safe staffing and appropriate pay are key priorities to well-being.

Identifying how to reduce distress among nurses

Lead author of the review Fuschia Sirois, who is a University of Sheffield reader in social and health psychology, said: ‘As the world continues to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is so important that we identify the healthcare workers who are most at risk for distress and the factors that can be modified to reduce distress and improve resilience.’

Dr Sirois and her team are conducting further research with NHS workers to help identify these factors.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond directly to Ms Sunley’s comment, but said: ‘A 24/7 support service has been made available to staff, alongside a national support service for critical care staff who are most at risk of experiencing trauma, as well as local mental health and well-being hubs across the UK.’


Read the review of research


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