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Almost half of nursing home staff had symptoms of PTSD during the pandemic - study

Researchers found that one in seven staff reported thinking of ending their life.

Almost half of nursing home staff displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the pandemic, according to a new survey. 

One in seven respondents reported thinking of ending their life over the previous week, and one in 11 reported planning to end their life, said researchers. 

The findings are from the COWORKER Nursing Home Study by St Patrick’s Mental Services, Trinity College Dublin, the Royal College of Surgeons and Nursing Homes Ireland, which survey 390 nursing home staff.

They undertook the work to see how the pandemic had altered the mental health of staff.

Approximately 45 percent of respondents reported moderate or severe symptoms of PTSD while 39 percent of respondents reported low mood. 

The study did not find any significant differences between professions in experiencing PTSD symptoms.

Moral injury

It also found that healthcare assistants reported a significantly higher degree of moral injury than non-clinical staff.

A moral injury is described as a psychological distress experienced when “an individual feels betrayed by higher authorities or witnesses or engages in acts” that contradict their ethical beliefs.

Researchers also found that significantly more nurses reported a low mood. 

Research Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Psychiatrist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Declan McLoughlin, said nursing homes have been “disproportionately affected” during the pandemic.

This particularly happened during the first wave, he added: “Staff have had to contend with high numbers of COVID-related deaths of residents; exposure to the virus; increased visiting restrictions; and disruption to routine activities in their workplaces.

“It is hoped that phase one of the study’s findings will highlight potential areas of concern for nursing home staff so that they can address this and seek support as required.”

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Stigma

Lead author of the study, Dr Conan Brady, said that while researchers do not know the mental health experiences of staff in nursing homes before COVID-19, many pandemic-related factors may have impacted on respondents’ mental health.

“In addition to the restrictions we’ve all faced, other reasons could be job stress or concerns about stigma from working in environments with high levels of COVID-19.

“There are little data on suicidal ideation in nursing home staff internationally, and this warrants more investigation,” Dr Brady said. 

The researchers now plan to repeat the survey to see if these experiences remain following the rollout of Ireland’s vaccination programme and will soon begin to recruit nursing home staff to participate. 

For more information on the second phase of this study visit here.

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