Nurses most at risk of distress during pandemic

Study on healthcare workers found support is key
  • Deborah Condon

Working during an infectious disease outbreak can be extremely challenging for healthcare workers. Now, new research has found that among these workers, nurses and females are most likely to experience psychological distress.

UK researchers carried out the largest global review of factors linked with distress among healthcare workers during an infectious disease outbreak. They looked at 139 studies involving over 143,000 healthcare workers from around the world.

The studies had been carried out between 2000 and November 2020 and included infectious diseases such as COVID-19, SARS, swine flu and Ebola.

"Consistent evidence indicated that being female, a nurse, experiencing stigma and having contact or risk of contact with infected patients were the biggest risk factors for psychological distress among healthcare workers.

"By analysing data from previous infectious disease outbreaks such as SARS, bird flu and swine flu, it appears that distress for healthcare workers can persist for up to three years after the initial outbreak," explained the review's lead author, Dr Fuschia Sirois, of the University of Sheffield.

She said that as the world continues to deal with 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".

Some of the factors linked with less psychological distress included:
-Having personal or organisational social support
-Being provided with sufficient information about the outbreak
-Being provided with proper protection, training and resources.

The review found that factors such as age did not appear to have a big impact on distress levels, even during the COVID pandemic.

"In some studies, older people weren't distressed, perhaps because they had worked as healthcare professionals for many years and therefore felt more equipped in dealing with an outbreak, whereas younger people, who are physically less likely to be affected by the infectious disease, tended to be less experienced in dealing with an outbreak professionally, therefore causing them to be more distressed," Dr Sirois noted.

Social aspects also had an important role to play. People with a strong social support network benefitted from this, but on the other hand, those living with a partner and/or children tended to be more stressed because they were scared about passing on the infection.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychiatry.


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