4 Unspoken Truths About Nurses, PTSD and the Pandemic
If you’re a nurse and the pandemic has caused mental health issues know that you are not alone. Many nurses are suffering. You don’t have to suffer in silence, there are organizations ready to help you right now.
The seven pm applause has long faded. The word “hero” with the face of nurses is no longer used in commercials flooding our televisions. Thank you dinners and notes aren’t flooding the hospitals. COVID vaccine numbers are slowly starting to rise across the country and Americans are starting to remember what the world looked like before the pandemic. But the truth is, the devastating effects of the novel coronavirus continue to ravage the world and the number of individuals that have succumbed to the disease is astounding.
Nurses fighting on the front lines have been battling COVID-19 for a year but the true effects will be far lasting. The impact of the coronavirus on the nation has been unprecedented but a similar battle is being fought by nurses and their mental health including suicide and PTSD. The heroes are suffering, badly.
1. Knowing When To Ask For Help and Resources
Asking for help can be scary. Knowing when to ask for help can be even scary. But it’s important to remember that there are thousands of nurses struggling and who continue to struggle silently. There are places to ask for help and no one should be ashamed to ask for it. If you are struggling, but don’t know where to go, consider reaching out to one of the resources below. They are there to help. They are there to help you heal.
- National Suicide Prevention & Crisis Hotline 1-800-273-TALK
- Therapy Aid Coalition - Offering therapy specifically for essential workers.
- Mental Health America - Frontline COVID-19 workers get screened for mental health conditions.
- HEAR Program - This program was created for healthcare professionals and counselors are ready to help you, even when you’re off shift or during odd hours.
2. Suicide Rates Have Risen Amongst Nurses
Prior to the pandemic, nurse suicide rates were at an all-time high. Researchers found higher rates of suicide among both women and men working in nursing when compared with non-nurses.
- Suicide incidence was 11.97 per 100,000 people among female nurses and 39.8 per 100,000 among male nurses.
The World Health Organization reports that one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide and it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a silent epidemic that until recently was rarely talked about.
In the aforementioned study, nurses were more likely to have,
- Reported mental health problems,
- History of treatment for mental illness,
- History of previous suicide attempt,
- Leaving a suicide note, and physical health problems than the general population,
- Men were more likely to successfully carry out the attempts.
And this was before nurses were working 60+ hours a week, holding the hands of patients dying without their loved ones, communicating via iPad with families, and being separated from their spouses, children, and family for weeks on end.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide the National Suicide Prevention & Crisis Hotline can help, CALL 1-800-273-TALK.
Since COVID-19, there has been an increased spotlight on nurses’ mental health. The psychological scars of the stress, death, lack of PPE, and isolation will impact the nursing profession long beyond the physical effects.
3. Many Nurses Struggle With Mental Health Alone, Get Help Now
Coronavirus is accelerating nurse burnout which in turn has accelerated nurse suicide and mental health instability. Some nurses have dropped to part-time status while others have left the bedside completely. The pressure of caring for patients who one minute are stable and the next are unresponsive and requiring a ventilator is unbearable for most and has pushed many to the limits.
Sometimes, you might need a mental health break. Other times you’ll need help from professionals. Don’t wait, get the help you need now.
Studies have found the biggest hindrance to nurses’ mental health recovery is knowing when to ask for help and where. Finding a therapist can be complicated, especially in rural areas, and finding one with hours suitable for healthcare professionals can be even tricker.
- UC San Diego has successfully created a suicide prevention program called the Healer Education Assessment and Referral (HEAR) program. Counselors are available to nurses during off-shift hours which is helpful and reassuring. The program is specifically designed for all healthcare professionals.
- The website offers a free and anonymous screening questionnaire that allows healthcare professionals to get confidential feedback and help from counselors. This program is recognized as best practice in suicide prevention by the American Medical Association. Since the inception of HEAR in 2009, more than 500 healthcare professionals have utilized the free service including over 40 nurses per year. This number is expected to rise drastically due to COVID.
4. The Pandemic Has Caused Many Nurses To Struggle with PTSD
Most associate PTSD with severe physical trauma and/or but the reality is nurses across the country are suffering from PTSD due to the mental effects of working on the front line. Studies conducted in China, Canada, and Italy have identified that nurses are suffering from anxiety, depression, and insomnia related to the fight against COVID. Women reported the highest numbers of work-induced anxiety; however, the field is dominated by women in those countries.
Anxiety is crippling for nurses especially when there is no end in sight. Yes, there is a vaccine and while the outlook is hopeful - there is still an uphill battle. The newest director of the CDC predicts another record-breaking number of deaths due to COVID. Nurses are in a constant state of fear. Fear that there will be a PPE shortage again, fear they will bring the virus home with them, fear there will be a vaccine shortage and fear that the general public will not embrace the vaccine like medical professionals.
If you’re struggling, get the help you need. Don’t suffer alone.
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