Almost half of healthcare staff working in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) through the Covid-19 pandemic in England could be suffering from problem drinking, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), new research from scientists at King’s College London and University College London suggests, highlighting the mental toll shouldered by health workers fighting the virus.
In a survey of over 700 clinical workers across nine different English ICUs, published in the journal Occupational Medicine, the researchers found that nearly half “met the threshold for probable clinical significance” for severe depression, PTSD, severe anxiety or problem drinking, or a combination of these.
PTSD was by far the most common issue among healthcare workers, with 40% of those surveyed likely meeting the criteria for clinically significant illness, and one in seven clinicians had reported thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Out of all professions surveyed, nurses reported worse mental health across a range of different measures, the scientists said.
Professor Neil Greenberg, the study’s lead author, said that the severity of symptoms identified are “highly likely to impair” staff’s ability to provide high-quality care as well as have a negative impact on their quality of life.
Greenberg said the high mortality rate amongst Covid-19 patients admitted to the ICU and the difficulties in communicating and providing end-of-life support to patients and families was likely incredibly stressful for workers.
“Evidence-based mechanisms should be in place so all healthcare workers, including ICU staff, can promptly access treatment for mental health issues,” Greenberg added.
Covid-19 has exacted a heavy mental toll on a vast number of people in the U.S. and the U.K., with many warning of a silent mental health pandemic running alongside the coronavirus pandemic. Isolation, stress and fear of the virus affect everyone, especially as lockdown measures are put in place, but those working to tackle the pandemic directly face a unique set of stressors, highly challenging work environments and long, high-pressure hours. The British study adds to a growing mound of evidence warning of the significant psychiatric risks the pandemic poses to front line workers as well as survivors of the disease. A recent survey from Mental Health America showed 76% of healthcare workers reporting burnout and exhaustion. NPR reported on nurses in LA quitting as hospitals are stretched to breaking point.
What We Don’t Know
The study relied on self-reported questionnaires so we don’t know the true extent and validity of these reported symptoms. “Further work is needed to better understand the real level of clinical need amongst ICU staff as self-report questionnaires can overestimate the rate of clinically relevant mental health symptoms,” the scientists said.
Covid-19 survivors are also at considerable psychiatric risk. One study found that one in five patients was diagnosed with a mental illness within three months of testing positive. Puzzlingly, the researchers also found that those with pre-existing psychiatric illnesses were 65% more likely to contract Covid-19, a finding researchers said needed further investigation.
The Covid-19 Pandemic Is Causing More Severe Mental Health Issues—And More Burnout Among Psychologists And Psychiatrists (Forbes)
One In Five Covid-19 Patients Diagnosed With A Mental Illness Within Three Months Of Testing Positive, Study Finds (Forbes)
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