As part of frontline health care workers, nurses treated COVID-19 patients and helped them recover during the pandemic, although many of these personnel themselves faced several mental health issues due to the prevailing situation, especially during the second wave, a study has found.
The study paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing by G Balamurugan, G Radhakrishnan and M Vijayarani, says that fear, burnout, anxiety, fatigue, stress, depression and insomnia were some common mental health issues faced by Indian nurses at that time.
The coronavirus pandemic broke out in the country in March 2020. “The common mental health issues experienced by the Indian nurses were fear, burnout, anxiety and fatigue, followed by stress, depression, insomnia and work-life imbalance. Similar kinds of mental health issues were experienced by nurses around the world. Other issues included mental fatigue, phobia, grief, insecurity and helplessness,” the study said.
Referring to the findings of this study during a press conference in Panaji on Thursday, the Indian Society of Psychiatric Nurses (ISPN) has said the plight of nurses in India needs to be highlighted.
ISPN president K Reddemma said the COVID-19 pandemic had a serious bearing on the mental health of nurses. “During COVID-19 pandemic, the nurses stood by the patients. Due to the PPE kits they wore, they were not even able to breathe properly or step out of hospitals,” she said.
The ISPN office-bearers were in Goa to take part in a three-day annual conference beginning Friday at the Institute of Nursing Education in Bambolim. Reddemma said that in order to pay tributes to nurses for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, World Health Day on April 7, 2023 will also be observed as ‘Samarpan Day’ (Dedication Day).
Radhakrishnan, who has co-authored the research paper highlighting the mental issues faced by nurses during the pandemic, said that the ISPN and Indian Nursing Council (INC) had supported these health care personnel fighting the COVID-19 battle during the second wave.
A list of mental health nursing volunteers along with their phone number, preferred language and preferred time was mentioned on the INC website as well as on the ISPN India website, he said.
G Balamurugan, who has also co-authored the research paper, said, “Between May and August 2021, these mental health nursing volunteers received around 177 calls. During May and June 2021, there was an upward trend in the number of calls. After that the number of calls started going down gradually.”
“This trend is correlated with the number of COVID-19 cases in India during the second wave, which shows that the caseload was directly affecting the nurses’ mental health,” he added.
Meanwhile, back in October 2020, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) had said that many nurses caring for COVID-19 patients were suffering burn-out or psychological distress, and many have faced abuse or discrimination outside of work.
“We are extremely concerned about the mental health impact on nurses,” Howard Catton, a British nurse who was the ICN’s chief executive, at the association’s headquarters in Geneva, had said.
“Our most recent survey of national nurses’ associations shows that more than 70% of them (the associations) were saying that nurses have been subject to violence or discrimination and as a result of that they are very concerned about extreme cases of psychological distress and mental health pressure,” he said.
The figure was based on responses from roughly a quarter of its national nurses’ associations in more than 130 countries. Nurses face a broad spectrum of issues that affected their mental health, including physical and verbal abuse, Catton said.
“There are nurses who have been subject to discrimination, where their landlord has not renewed their lease for their apartment, or they can’t get child care for their children,” he said, without giving specifics of physical or verbal abuse. ICN has lobbied for better protection and working conditions for nurses on the front lines of the pandemic.