More mental health support needed for frontline nurses tackling COVID

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More support needs to be put in place for hospital workers, especially nurses, dealing with the COVID pandemic after a global review of studies found high levels of depression, PTSD, anxiety and burn-out amongst frontline staff. 

The review, published in PLOS One, and conducted by the University of York and the Mental Health Foundation, follows in the wake of several other recent studies into mental health challenges facing nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, notably:

The PLOS One study, Mental health among healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic and other coronavirus outbreaks: A rapid systematic review  looked at 25 systematic reviews conducted during the early months of the pandemic. 

Estimates varied from 12% for anxiety in one review of healthcare workers in hospital, to 51% for depression and PTSD in another review.

Among the highest risk factors were being yoiung, female, working in nursing as a frontline worker in direct contact with patients, and non-voluntary assignment to high-risk roles.

The review was a collaboration between the University of York's Centre for Reviews and Dissemination and the Mental Health Foundation. In addition, a panel of six UK healthcare workers helped the researchers to interpret findings of the review. Based on feedback from the panel, the study authors highlight a lack of responsibility from the UK government to support healthcare workers, pointing out a need for tangible support more so than orchestrated initiatives such as "Clap for Carers" in the UK's NHS staff.

The panel confirmed review findings on the importance of support from colleagues, clear communication in the workplace, and the need for resources and support for a shift to working from home for community workers.

Lead author Noortje Uphoff, a research Fellow at the University of York's Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, said additional support during outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic could prevent an increased burden of mental health problems in the population.

"Many people worldwide have felt the impact of the COVID pandemic on their mental health, but some groups of people may be more at risk of experiencing poor mental health than others," she said.

"Healthcare workers may already have a higher risk of adverse mental health outcomes due to the stressful nature of their work. However, there were some indications that mental health may be further affected as a result of working on the frontline during an infectious disease outbreak.

"This review indicates which types of support should be explored to protect the mental health of healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups during this pandemic and any future coronavirus outbreaks."

Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, Director at the Mental Health Foundation, said, "Much has been said about the impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers. However, our novel partnership approach to complete this review brought a range of unique perspectives to the project. Our team consisted of researchers and workers with academic, third sector, clinical and lived experience, thus supporting the idea that research can be more meaningful if inclusive.