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The Effects of Caring for Patients with COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Critical Care Nurses

Background: Throughout the career of a registered nurse, there are countless occurrences of adversity that will present itself, which allow the individual to respond with tenacity and knowledgeable critical thinking skills. In March 2020, the integrity of the United States’ healthcare system was put to the ultimate test as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, which proved to be detrimental to registered nurses across the nation. It is much too soon to be aware of any long-term effects that this increased stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have on critical care nurses, however, there were many advantages of researching the interaction between the two subject matters and the effect on nurses’ mental health.

Objective: To explore what effects of the COVID-19 pandemic the subject critical care nurses identified most often as having a negative impact on their mental health state and identify suggestions needed to improve the mental health state of the subject critical care nurses.

Methods: A non-experimental, quantitative, descriptive, and correlational research design was utilized for this study. A 45-item self-administered survey, titled “The Effects of Caring for Patients with COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Critical Care Nurses” was offered to a purchased audience of critical care registered nurses on the online survey platform SurveyMonkey™.

Results: This study used survey responses from 75 critical care nurses who cared for COVID-19 positive patients:

45% of the sample worked in an ICU unit. 69% floated to other units and 61.3% said floating affected their mental health state. The ages of the nurses ranged from 20 to 30 years old (20.0%) to 51 years old and over (20.0%) with the median age being Mdn = 35.50 years. As for nursing experience, 50.7% of the sample had 10 or more years of experience. Most of the sample (82.7%) were women and 57.3% were married. As for highest education, 21.3% at an ADN degree, 58.7% had a BSN degree, and 19.0% had an MSN degree or higher education.  83% of the sample worked full-time. Initially, 45.3% were fully vaccinated. Currently, 86.7% reported being fully vaccinated.

Spearman correlations were used instead of the more common Pearson correlations due to the sample size (N = 75) and the ordinal level of measurement for several of the variables. Inspection of the table found 3 of 11 correlations were significant at the p <.05 level. Specifically, the effects scale was higher: (a) when the nurse said floating to other units affected their mental health state (rs = .27, p < .05); (b) for full-time nurses (rs = .24, p < .05); and (c) those nurses that were currently vaccinated (rs = .31, p < .01).

The most frequently reported strategies and recommendations, apart from those nurses reporting no strategies or recommendations (14.7%), were positive thinking/self-talk (12.0%), more breaks/days off/vacations/rest (10.7%), mental health support (counseling, therapy) (9.3%), self-care (6.7%), connect with partner, family, and friends (positive influences) (5.3%), exercise (5.3%), and better support from management (5.3%). This supported the hypothesis.

Conclusions: There is an increased need for supporting nurses in various aspects during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in a setting without a worldwide pandemic. This study was effective in identifying the correlations between the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative effects it has had on the mental health state of registered nurses.