Nurse Mental Health During the Pandemic

Russ Krengel Caregivers, Healthcare

May is Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.S. During this time, our nation raises awareness that mental health is a core component of overall health. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is encouraging all Americans to reach out for mental health support as needed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, there is an increased need for mental health awareness among professional nurses.

As reported in March of 2021, over 122 million U.S residents (~30%) live in an area with a shortage of mental health resources. AANP is calling on national policies to expand mental healthcare infrastructure to support under-serviced populations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders. Of those surveyed, every age range, from 18-65+ has reported a negative impact on mental health.

Nurses are not immune to the mental health crisis. Over the last year, nurses on the front lines have reported increasing rates of burnout, declining mental health, distrust, and disengagement from employers. Nurses are facing longer hours and more trauma with limited resources. Many are considering leaving front-line work for a job not involved in direct patient care or retiring from nursing altogether.

In April of 2021, Kaiser Family Foundation and Washington Post reported that 60% of front-line worker respondents said the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. 18% of respondents said they needed mental health services or medication but didn’t get them. Many cited being too busy or unable to get time off work, feeling afraid or embarrassed, or not being able to afford it. Only 5% of nurses feel employers believe their mental health is a priority and there are sufficient resources to support them.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) has published a guide for nurses seeking mental health services. The guide includes tips for recognizing trauma and emotional distress, places to receive support, and information about accessing mental health treatment.

The guide recommends nurses monitor for symptoms of excessive stress, including sleep disturbances, emotional imbalances, physical changes, difficulty thinking clearly, substance abuse, and changes in social behavior. Nurses are encouraged to reach out to human resource departments, primary care providers, and online treatment locators for mental help.