Real Nurses, Real Life: Healthcare Professionals Share Their Experiences with Pandemic PTSD & COVID Burnout

October 28, 2022

Two and half years after the shutdown, the Covid-19 pandemic has left almost half of the nurses who served in critical care and intensive care units at a higher risk for PTSD than current military veterans[i].

According to Lydia Mobley, former Fastaff traveler now serving as the Clinical Engagement Partner for Ingenovis Health, Fastaff’s parent company, care-giver burnout and compassion fatigue were already prevalent for her and other healthcare professionals before COVID-19. For those working in trauma units and ICU units, that burnout was felt twice as much.

Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are presenting more now in nurses after the last two-and-half-years than before and is more widespread in nurses v.s. other healthcare providers. Both travel and staff nurses who were in COVID ICU and CCU units for long periods of time and who experienced longstanding extreme or traumatic stress are at high-risk for or already experiencing PTSD[ii].

In one study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, extreme workload, frequency of death and mass amounts of death, isolation from family/loved ones due to fear of infecting them, extreme fear of dying from infection, and lack of support from management and corporations were all listed as contributing factors to a nurses’ likelihood of having PTSD.

During the Spring of 2021, Lydia worked in Manteca and Modesto, CA in COVID ICU units. She discussed how the morgues and makeshift morgues were full, therefore a freezer truck was parked in the employee parking lot. Everyday walking past that truck was a reminder of how many people were dying each shift. According to Lydia, in a single night shift, three people died in the first four hours. And the hospitals Lydia worked for in the Fall of 2020 through the Spring of 2021, ran out of body bags.

Lydia reported seeing more death in the winter of 2020 through the spring of 2021 than she had ever witnessed prior in her nine years of previous nursing experience. “We were just stacking bodies all winter long,” Lydia said.

By the fall of 2021, a new layer to the pandemic added a new layer to the traumatic stress. Vaccines were widely available and many patients that Lydia worked with came in requesting the vaccine or asking if it was too late to get the vaccine. Or patients were presenting in the ICU with symptoms caused by dangerous remedies that patients self-medicated with because of false information. “These deaths were so much harder, because they were preventable,” Lydia said.

She began to have nightmares that either she or someone she loved was coding. She also began drinking more, crying more, and feeling intensely angry over small things.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can present itself in many ways. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, symptoms of PTSD can be anything from flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance of things that remind you of the event, to having more negative thoughts, abusing substances, and feelings of helplessness--as though you could have done more for the patient.

“Both institutional support and self-care strategies are important,” according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in order to maintain a healthy and emotionally stable healthcare workforce for the remainder of the pandemic.

One way to practice self-care strategies is to talk to other healthcare providers who went through a similar experience. Lydia reported not being able to discuss her experiences with family and friends because she didn’t want to burden them with all that she had gone through. However, she did have another nurse that she worked with, Alex Stow, who she could connect with and communicate her experiences with. 

Lydia also recommends therapy for those who are feeling as though the stress is affecting their lives and abilities to continue the job due to flashbacks, anxiety, excessive anger, or any other problematic symptoms, etc.  

Ingenovis Health has launched its new ACT program (Advocacy, Career, Tools) with extensive resources available to help with health and wellness, as well as other mental health resources, such as TalkSpace. TalkSpace offers COVID-19 frontline support on anything from a 16-day program to help with fear and anxiety surrounding the virus and therapy lead Facebook groups, to on-going support from therapists.

At Fastaff, we see the entire nurse – both as an excellent caregiver but also as a human who’s dealt with heavy circumstances. Through your assignments and the challenges, we’re here for you. We live it, side by side with you.

 

[i] The Guardian and the National Library of Medicine

[ii] National Library of Medicine