Study: Critical care staff face trauma and severe anxiety due to COVID-19
January 24, 2021

UK study finds critical care staff face trauma and severe anxiety due to COVID-19

LONDON (UK) – According to a study published on Wednesday, nearly half of staff working in intensive care units (ICU) in England in the COVID-19 pandemic have experienced severe anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, with some reporting having thoughts that they would be better off dead.

Many ICU nurses and doctors are on the clinical threshold for PTSD, anxiety or problem drinking. Symptoms are so severe that some reported that they were contemplating self-harm or suicide.

Such acutely poor mental health among ICU staff attending critically ill and dying COVID-19 patients is likely to weaken their ability to work effectively and affect their quality of life, the researchers leading the study said.

With more than 3 million people in Britain testing positive for COVID-19 disease, the government says hospitals and intensive care wards are on the brink of being overwhelmed.

The pressure on ICU staff, who work with very sick patients for long periods in areas where the risk of getting exposed to COVID-19 is high and where staff and equipment shortages pose problems on a daily basis, has been particularly high.

Neil Greenberg, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London who co-led the research, said, “The high rate of mortality amongst COVID-19 patients admitted to ICU, coupled with difficulty in communication and providing adequate end-of-life support to patients … are very likely to have been highly challenging stressors for all staff working in ICUs.”

The study, published in the journal Occupational Health, was conducted in June and July, and it found that among more than 700 healthcare workers in nine ICUs across England, 45% met the threshold for probable clinical significance for at least one of four serious mental health disorders: severe depression (6%), PTSD (40%), severe anxiety (11%) or problem drinking (7%).

The researchers said, more than one in eight of those in the study reported frequent self-harming or suicidal thoughts, such as thinking of being better off dead, or of hurting themselves, in the last two weeks.

Greenberg said that the findings “highlight the potential profound impact that COVID-19 has had on the mental health of frontline UK staff,” and show a dire need for mental health services to be promptly accessible for all healthcare workers.

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