Healthcare staff experienced a high mental health burden during COVID-19 but less is known about the effect on intensive care staff.
Healthcare workers are three times more likely to become infected with COVID-19 compared to community individuals. Nevertheless, during viral epidemic outbreaks, an additional burden to healthcare staff is the impact on their mental wellbeing that accompanies the associated increased workload, leading to stress and anxiety. With thousands of patients across the globe developing more severe infection, there has been much focus on management within intensive care units. Such units are a highly demanding environment with staff continually exposed to traumatic and stressful events and a study from 2007, revealed a higher incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among intensive care nursing staff. Given the high levels of 28-day mortality among patients with COVID-19, this undoubtedly further increases the mental health burden of intensive care staff. However, there is a lack of data specifically examining the mental wellbeing of intensive care staff.
Using an online survey, a team from the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Imperial College, London, UK, sought to gain a better understanding of the mental health burden experienced by intensive care staff. The overall aim was to establish the prevalence of indices of depression, insomnia, and PTSD, which the authors suspected would be high among intensive care staff. The survey was conducted among all healthcare professionals working within the intensive care environment and distributed across the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan and Mainland China.
For the survey, three previously validated questionnaires were included: the two-item patient health questionnaire (PHQ-2) which sought to grade depression severity, an 8-item Athens Insomnia scale (AIS-8) and the 10-item trauma screening questionnaire (TSQ). The corresponding cut-off values for these questionnaires are 3 (PHQ-2), 8 (AIS-8) and 6 (TSQ). As well as these questionnaires, the authors included a series of general questions on wellbeing.
The final cohort included 515 responses from seven different countries and the majority of respondents were female (73%), of white ethnicity (73%) and aged 31–40 years (43.3%). Interestingly, 5.8% of respondents reported a pre-existing mental health condition. Just over half (52.4%) were nurses, with the remainder being senior (13.8%), residents/fellows (8.9%) and junior (6.4%) doctors, physiotherapists and others. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds (60.2%) had been re-deployed from another specialty and only a third (33.8%) were normally based within an intensive care ward.
The median scores were 2, 10 and 3 for PHQ-2, AIS-8 and TSQ respectively. Overall, 37.3%, 78.6% and 27.7% of participants had scores for PHQ-2, AIS-8 and TSQ respectively, that were above the thresholds for each condition. Across the different countries, 16–44% of respondents exceeded the threshold for depression, 60–80% for insomnia and 17–35% for PTSD.
The authors concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic had created a significant mental health burden for intensive care staff and recommended that all such staff have access to mental wellbeing resources, especially given the possibility of further surges in the rates of infection in the future.
Ezzat A. The global mental health burden of COVID-19 on critical care staff. Br J Nurs 2021