Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) found that nurses working with respiratory patients on the COVID-19 frontline suffered anxiety and depression during the first wave.
The study also found that some nurses working with respiratory patients during the pandemic have been struggling to support their families emotionally and financially.
The research, carried out in partnership with Southampton and Edge Hill universities, predicts that poor mental health may increase over this winter period as increased COVID-19 cases clash with high volumes of winter admissions.
Results of the study, led by GCU health services researcher Dr Nicola Roberts, showed that just over a fifth of 255 staff surveyed experienced moderate to severe or severe symptoms of anxiety, and around 17 per cent had similar levels for depression.
It also found that younger nurses with less experience had higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower resilience levels.
Just over 11 per cent of nurses reported that they had difficulty supporting their households emotionally and financially. Many said they felt “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” juggling work and family life.
The study showed evidence of a significant level of anxiety and depression in the nursing workforce and called for action to support the mental health and wellbeing of NHS workers during the pandemic.
Nurses caring for respiratory patients play a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 with their expert skills and knowledge as well as maintaining care for patients with long-term conditions.
The survey was carried out in May this year during the first wave of the pandemic and researchers concluded that “whilst the NHS has provided psychological support, these programmes need to be reinforced so that staff are able to cope emotionally and work effectively” during a second surge expected to hit hospitals hard this winter.
Dr Roberts, Principal Investigator in the study, said: “This is an important study, nurses are the largest workforce and a crucial component of how we can deliver healthcare well during the pandemic.
“This study has shown a significant level of anxiety and depression in the nursing workforce. This warrants long term nursing workforce adaptations or interventions to support the mental health and wellbeing of NHS workers during the pandemic.
“As the pandemic continues it is vital that we support NHS staff to be able to cope and increase resilience. We are looking in more detail at the concerns nurses raised in the survey, how they coped at home and examples of mental health support that was implemented in the workplace. As part of this programme of work we will be circulating another survey to explore further how nurses are managing over the winter period.
“It is predicted that poor mental health and lower resilience will increase over this winter period as increased COVID-19 cases clash with high volumes of winter admissions.
“The NHS needs to continue to provide mental health support for nurses and other staff as we prepare for winter, in particular for younger and less experienced nurses. We need appropriate organisations, NHS management and professional bodies to implement interventions and programmes to support staff. There is an urgent need to develop evidence based self-help interventions to improve and support those working on the front line during the COVID pandemic. The psychological support needs to be available in multiple formats which can be tailored to each individual. Long-term resilience training needs to be developed and implemented for any future pandemics.”
When asked about how they were managing to cope with work and home life, most of the respondents said they struggled to give emotional support to their families because of exhaustion. One nurse wrote that her “tank feels empty” and another said “it’s relentless”.
Several nurses reported difficulties buying groceries at the start of the pandemic and felt the financial impact of partners going on furlough or being made redundant.
The research, entitled ‘Levels of resilience, anxiety and depression in nurses working in respiratory clinical areas during the COVID pandemic’, has been published in the Respiratory Medicine journal here.