Nurses’ Pandemic-Related Anxiety and Depression Traced to a Few Factors

The COVID-19 pandemic was by no means the only crisis Nancy A. Jones, BSN, RN, CNRN, experienced in her 36 years as a nurse. Jones, a neuroscience ICU nurse manager at NYU Langone Health, also worked through the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.

But nothing has been as challenging to the nursing profession as the pandemic, Jones said.

“As a nurse manager, I was in charge of the nursing staff, coordinating schedules, supplies, coordinating nurses for patient care — really preparing the unit to go from a neuroscience ICU to a full-blown COVID medical ICU in a week’s time,” she said. “I think the biggest challenges were making sure my staff was OK and that I had enough staff.”

Despite the challenges, Jones did not suffer with anxiety or depression in 2020 and into 2021. “I will be very honest. Some days were better than others,” she said.

Christine T. Kovner, RN

But many other nurses did experience mental health challenges. During the early months of the pandemic, about 27% of nurses at New York City hospitals reported anxiety, and 17% reported depression, according to a study of nearly 2,500 nurses surveyed from May through July 2020.

“The first finding that I think is important is that the more nurses cared for patients with COVID, the more depression they had, the more anxiety they had,” said the study’s lead author Christine T. Kovner, PhD, RN, the Mathey Mezey Professor of Geriatric Nursing at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

That might not be a surprising finding, but it is useful in scientifically validating what many in acute care might think is obvious, according to Kovner.

Younger nurses were more likely to be anxious and depressed than older nurses. And nurses working in ICUs were more likely to be depressed than those in other settings, according to the study published in Nursing Outlook.

What Helped Decrease Anxiety and Depression

Coworker support was the most common response when nurses were asked about what helped them to care for patients during the pandemic. That was followed by support from family and friends.

More workplace support, better physician-nurse work relations, and human resources access were factors associated with less anxiety and depression among nurses. Organizational constraints, or organizational limits on employees’ ability to turn knowledge and effort into strong job performance, were associated with higher anxiety and depression.

An important factor associated with less anxiety and depression was something called mastery. Kovner described it as being similar to self-efficacy, or the sense that one has the ability to deal with a situation and do something about it.

Jones said it helped her to work in a facility that had the resources she needed to be prepared.

“Being prepared was what helped me most,” she said. “For me personally, it was how I could make sure my staff was ready. I not only saw teamwork but also a lot of camaraderie, and that is what I think helped all of my nurses to get through this — the ability to be together, to really …read more

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