New survey shows links between COVID-19 pandemic and B.C. nurses’ mental health

B.C. nurses working in the front lines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced high levels of emotional exhaustion, depression and anxiety, finds a new survey by UBC nursing researchers and the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU).

Three out of five nurses surveyed, or 60 per cent, reported emotional exhaustion, compared with 56 per cent from a similar survey conducted in late 2019. Forty-one per cent suffered from depression – up from 31 per cent earlier. And 38 per cent of nurses said they experienced anxiety, compared to 28 per cent last year.

The findings also show the toll exacted by COVID-19 on nurses’ personal lives, with 86 per cent reporting they are extremely concerned about bringing the virus home and 80 per cent fearing they will contract COVID-19 at work.

A total of 3,676 nurses across B.C. participated in the study, conducted in June and July 2020.

“While these are preliminary findings and we are continuing to analyze the data, we can already see the broad trends of worsening mental health among B.C.’s frontline nurses,” said principal investigator Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor at the UBC school of nursing who studies health systems and patient care.

“As a nurse and a researcher, I’m very concerned to see more nurses reporting higher levels of poor mental health, which can directly affect their ability to provide effective care, if not resolved in a timely manner.”

The researchers say the survey findings also point to challenges with the pandemic response early on. Two out of five nurses (41 per cent) rated the transparency of organizational decisions related to the pandemic as poor or failing. Three out of 10 (27 per ­­cent) said COVID-19 related protocols and policies changed daily, if not multiple times a day.

“Before the pandemic, nurses were being greatly impacted by the nursing shortage and burnout due to high workloads,” says BCNU President Christine Sorensen. “This study offers a look at the personal and professional sacrifices nurses have made over the last six months. It highlights the mental health challenges facing nurses and all health-care workers as they brace for a COVID-19 surge this fall.”

The key findings are based on responses from nurses in acute care, community care and long-term care. The survey also looked at nurses’ COVID-19 training, workplace violence and nurses’ coping mechanisms.

Click here to access the survey results.

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