PTSD Can Strike Nurses, Especially During COVID-19

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TUESDAY, May 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Nursing is not a profession for the fainthearted, but new research shows that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can strike nurses, and suggests the new coronavirus may make things even worse for those on the front lines of the pandemic.

Though the study was conducted a year ago, the results are particularly timely as nurses around the world are treating millions of COVID-19 cases in incredibly trying conditions, the researchers noted.

Study author Michelle Schuster, a registered nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, noted that many aspects of the novel coronavirus have the potential to increase PTSD rates among nurses. For example, frequency of coronavirus exposure and workplace frustrations may be heightened. To make matters worse, self-isolating means that nurses may no longer be able to draw on physical closeness with family and friends for social support, she added.

Judy Davidson, a nurse scientist at the University of San Diego who has studied suicide rates in nurses, agreed.

“We know from experiences with SARS, Ebola, and even the Chinese experience with COVID-19, that pandemics result in panic disorder, stress disorders, depression and suicide,” said Davidson, who wasn’t part of the study. “Now more than ever, we need to be proactive in our approach to finding people at risk.”

In the study, published May 5 in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, Schuster and her colleagues analyzed 24 previously published articles about PTSD in nurses. Their analysis highlights that PTSD is a growing concern in the nursing profession, likely related to a combination of workplace conditions, interpersonal relationships, and personal coping skills.

“Many people are unaware that PTSD can happen in individuals not connected with the military,” Schuster said. “Awareness is key. Once there is more acknowledgement, we can find, develop and promote interventions to support a nurse’s well-being.”

PTSD prevalence rates varied widely in the articles studied, likely due to the use of five different PTSD measuring assessments across research institutions. Schuster says determining accurate prevalence rates will be an important area of further research.

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