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Almost half of ICU staff are likely dealing with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic

Nearly 1 in 2 intensive care staff are likely to be experiencing symptoms of PTSD or severe anxiety during the pandemic, according to new research.

The findings shed further light on the toll the pandemic has taken on frontline healthcare workers who, for extended periods of time, need to wear personal protective equipment and continue to perform their jobs as required – all whilst potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19.

Previous reports have shown an increase in hospital staff absences during the first wave of the pandemic, while barriers remain for staff to access mental health support services.

The new findings, reported by researchers at King's College London, show that, of 709 healthcare workers from 9 ICUs across the UK, 45% met the threshold for at least one of severe depression, PTSD, severe anxiety, or problem drinking.

One in 8 reported thoughts of being better off dead or of hurting themselves in the two weeks prior to taking part in the study.

"Our results show a substantial burden of mental health symptoms being reported by ICU staff towards the end of the first wave in July and July 2020," said Lead author, Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), at King's College London. "The high rate of mortality amongst COVID-19 patients admitted to ICU, coupled with difficulty in communication and providing adequate end-of-life support to patients, and their next of kin because of visiting restrictions, are very likely to have been highly challenging stressors for all staff working in ICUs."

The severity of symptoms identified are highly likely to impair the ability of some workers to provide high quality care, says Greenberg, as well as negatively impact their quality of life.

"If we protect the mental health of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff will be better able to sustainably deliver high quality care to the large numbers of patients seriously unwell with COVID-19," he added.

The study was carried between June and July of last year and therefore do not take into account the latest rise in COVID-19 infections across the country.

If data from more recent months were included, the findings may paint a starker picture. However, as the authors note, the study relied on self-report questionnaires which can often overestimate clinically relevant findings.

To read the full study, click here.


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