Nurses working with Covid-19 respiratory patients during the first wave of the pandemic suffered anxiety and depression, with younger staff being worst affected, according to research.
Some nurses also found themselves struggling to support their families both emotionally and financially, the study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine found.
The research, carried out by the University of Southampton in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian (GCU) and Edge Hill universities, predicts that poor mental health may increase this winter 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% had similar levels for depression.
As the pandemic continues, it is vital that we support NHS staff to be able to cope and increase resilienceDr Nicola Roberts, Glasgow Caledonian University
It also found that younger nurses with less experience had higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower resilience levels.
Just over 11% of nurses reported that they had difficulty supporting their households emotionally and financially and many said they felt “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” juggling work and family life.
Dr Roberts said: “This study has shown a significant level of anxiety and depression in the nursing workforce.
“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.”
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”.
Dr Kate Lippiett, University of Southampton researcher and member of the study team, said: “The sense we had as clinical nurses ourselves was that a lot of people were being redeployed into unfamiliar areas and that was promoting quite a lot of anxiety and the results of the survey back that up – particularly for younger, less experienced nurses.”
It can be extremely daunting for nurses who can specialise in subjects as broad as sexual health and community visits to find themselves suddenly treating patients on a respiratory ward in a pandemicLindsay Welch, University of Southampton
Lindsay Welch, a lecturer in adult nursing at the University of Southampton who was also a member of the research team, was herself involved in providing nurses with training in respiratory conditions for the pandemic.
She said: “In my experience, concerns around redeployment are not always openly addressed and nurses are a workforce that is expected to go where they are needed.
“It can be extremely daunting for nurses who can specialise in subjects as broad as sexual health and community visits to find themselves suddenly treating patients on a respiratory ward in a pandemic.”