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Both the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and a survey conducted by the Nursing Times for its Covid-19: Are you Ok? campaign reported that many nurses are feeling more stressed and anxious than before the current crisis.
Many nurses are having to work outside of their comfort zone and under intense emotional, psychological and physical pressure. The anxiety and stress caused by these challenging and unprecedented times does not stop at the end of their working day, it continues at home where they are fearful of spreading the virus onto their loved ones.
The ICN expressed that all nurses were at risk of psychological distress, negative emotions, an overreliance on negative coping mechanisms and destabilisation of existing psychiatric conditions.
Indeed, over two years ago I wrote for the Nursing Times about the results of a study I had conducted looking at compassion fatigue (CF) and self-compassion (SC) in acute medical care hospital nurses, which highlighted how many were already feeling overwhelmed by their work environment, well before Covid-19 appeared.
The study exposed the prevalence of CF in acute care medical hospital ward nurses and its damaging effect. As well as confirming that SC has a moderating effect on CF and an ability to be predictive of CF, it also highlighted the need for ‘compassionate work environments’ and for leaders of healthcare organisations to be more supportive of the wellbeing of their staff.
Interestingly, some of these findings are echoed in the call for nurses to be provided with immediate support to deal with current mental health and wellbeing issues, and to mitigate the risk of staff experiencing longer term problems as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is of utmost importance that healthcare organisations, managers and team leaders within healthcare settings find resources and innovative strategies that can best support their staff to navigate through the uncharted waters we find ourselves in.
In response to this, the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology (CDT) Section (of which, as a nurse, I am the external representative for the nursing profession), have drawn together a collection of resources based on the recently published BPS guidance and suggested psychological response of healthcare staff to the phases of the outbreak. Key to the guidance is an understanding that psychological responses are likely to vary over the course of the outbreak, with different stresses during the ‘preparation’, ‘active’ and ‘recovery’ phases.
The CDT website includes information related to some of the specific recommendations made in the BPS guidance, including ‘compassionate leadership’, ‘psychological first aid’ and ‘moral distress and injury’, as well as in relation to general staff support and wellbeing during these uncertain, difficult times.
“For some members of staff the mental health consequences of the pandemic may currently not be clear, but could surface in the weeks, months and years to come”
The website also contains information on how, as individuals, we can best protect our own health and wellbeing at work during the ‘active’ phase (which we are presently experiencing), including how to be compassionate towards oneself, self-care strategies (self-compassion) and how to recognise compassion fatigue.
For some members of staff the mental health consequences of the pandemic may currently not be clear, but could surface in the weeks, months and years to come. Both the ICN and BPS recognise the significance of not only providing support to manage any current health and wellbeing issues that healthcare staff may be experiencing caring for patients during these new and demanding times, but also of preventing the long-term emotional, psychological and physical impact.
To reflect these concerns, BPS guidance and the CDT website offer recommendations and resources to support restoring and maintaining staff wellbeing in the ‘recovery’ phase.
In conclusion, effective leadership is pivotal to achieving success in supporting nurses and other healthcare workers both now and in times ahead. Healthcare organisations and leaders need to actively and authentically demonstrate that they value and appreciate their staff.
By providing the opportunity to access and adopt strategies like those suggested on the CDT website, individual nurses and nursing teams will have a better chance of improving their emotional and physical wellbeing and in doing so, help buffer the impact of their demanding and stressful work.
Kate Upton is an independent medical writer, lecturer and tutor. She is a member of the Nursing Midwifery Council and the Royal College of Nursing. Kate is also a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and serves on the Crisis, Disaster and Trauma section of the British Psychological Society.