• 15 May 2020
  • 6 min read

How are our ICU Nurses coping emotionally during the Covid-19 outbreak?

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister
    • Emanuele D-Amico
    • Mat Martin
  • 0
  • 1677
"We are doing our job and looking after you right now but we may soon need you to look after us."

ICU Deputy Charge Nurse, Suzanne Armstrong, discusses the impact the Coronavirus pandemic is having on the emotional wellbeing of ICU Nurses, and how they are staying positive.

Topics covered in this article

Introduction

Looking to our colleagues for support

Keeping in contact

Don’t feel guilty about taking and enjoying your time off

The UK has been slow to adopt a mass testing policy

It is so important that we support our nurses and NHS staff

Introduction

Covid-19 is changing everyone’s daily lives and impacting people's mental health across the board.

Nurses and medical staff are at particular risk of experiencing emotional distress and anxiety during this difficult time due to close exposure to the virus and seeing first hand the many tragedies of the crisis.

Feelings of stress, anxiety and depression are very real and completely natural. They are not things to be ashamed of or hide from others.

We all feel these emotions and need to remember it is a perfectly natural response and comes with the job.

Looking to our colleagues for support

Look to your colleagues around you for support and understanding.

They are likely experiencing the same feelings as you.

Talking about these emotions to people that understand and can relate is one of the most cathartic ways of dealing with them. It also helps someone else deal with their feelings.

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A problem shared really is a problem halved.

Many nurses, myself included, are really feeling the strain of the weeks of physically intense and emotionally draining work.

We have never seen a challenge like this and I hope to never see another in my career.

Coping with the emotional impact of Covid-19 is much like fighting the virus itself, it will not happen overnight.

Our nursing and medical staff need support now and will continue to need support after the crisis has ended.

We are likely to see a rise in post traumatic stress disorder among nurses and medical staff in the months or even years after this is all over.

Keeping in contact

It is extremely important right now for our nurses and NHS workers to look after themselves as much as their patients, especially their mental health.

There is a vast array of ways to do this and support already available but it comes down to the individual to really use them.

Sadly nurses and medical staff can experience avoidance from family, friends and their communities due to fear of infection and associated stigmas.

It is extremely important to keep in contact with loved ones and support networks to keep your spirits high.

Human interaction, even virtual, can greatly improve your mood and fight off feelings of isolation and depression.

It can be easy to fall into a trap of bottling up your emotions or trying to deny them completely.

In the long run this just does more damage.

We need to vent these feelings, air the wounds so they might heal in time.

Experiences I have had during the last weeks dealing with Covid-19 will stay with me forever.

I can’t change that but with some work hopefully I can come to terms with it.

Support in dealing with the emotional impact of Covid-19 is all around us, in our family, friends and colleagues.

There is also a wealth of support services and groups available if you would prefer that route.

Don’t feel guilty about taking and enjoying your time off

Don’t feel guilty about taking and enjoying your time off.

We all need this time to “switch off”, recharge our batteries and mental composure.

If you deny yourself this down time you are simply dooming yourself to exhaustion and fatigue.

Take good care of yourself so you can effectively take good care of your patients.

Social media platforms can be a great source of support and a quick fix of positive vibes but beware the negative aspects of these platforms.

It is as important to know what to avoid as what to embrace during this crisis.

Positive vibes only people.

The UK has been slow to adopt a mass testing policy

Personally I would like to see more testing for Covid-19 among our nurses and NHS staff.

Uncertainty can be the mother of all worry and anxiety, these are very uncertain times for us all.

As a nurse, knowing if I have or have had the virus makes a big difference to my mental state while dealing with the problem first hand.

Very few tests are 100% accurate even in ideal laboratory conditions.

Early reports from China show roughly 30% of cases gave a “false negative” result.

The UK has been slow to adopt a mass testing policy.

We should be testing and re-testing throughout this outbreak.

In the last weeks some of my family members have shown symptoms of infection.

This of course took me out of work while testing was completed and filled me with difficult mixed feelings about the situation.

I was worried that I may have infected my family yet I felt fit and healthy, I was panicking about my family and knew they needed me the most.

But I also felt guilty that I wasn’t at work treating my patients.

I was relieved to be at home and away from the ICU, but knew that my skill set is needed and my absence may be putting further stress on my colleagues.

Nurses can often feel this kind of cognitive dissidence in relation to our work, it can be extremely challenging and difficult to process these feelings internally.

This is quite a simple example of an emotional strain

I have experienced so far during this crisis.

ICU nurses make critical life decisions every day, choices such as treatment options, priority assignment and intervention timings.

A nurse makes these decisions with careful consideration, knowing the heavy weight they hold, but they can come back to haunt you no matter the outcome.

It is so important that we support our nurses and NHS staff

It is so important that we support our nurses and NHS staff not just now but in the coming months.

In time life will return to a sense of normality but the brave people that carried us through this dark time will burden the scars long after.

Be there for them, listen to them, try to understand how they feel and what they are going through.

Recovering from this tragedy will take time, emotional wounds can be harder to heal than physical injury.

We already pay too little attention to mental health problems, don’t let the people that fight to save your lives suffer in silence when this is all over.

We are doing our job and looking after you right now but we may soon need you to look after us.

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

I am a lifelong nurse with a real passion for care. I started my career in a busy seaside A&E department and am now an intensive care deputy sister at a large city hospital. My work is and always has been a big part of my life, I fill the rest with my fantastic family, loving husband James, two beautiful little girls and cheeky cockapoo called Charlie.

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  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

About the author

  • Suzanne Armstrong
    Intensive Care Deputy Sister

I am a lifelong nurse with a real passion for care. I started my career in a busy seaside A&E department and am now an intensive care deputy sister at a large city hospital. My work is and always has been a big part of my life, I fill the rest with my fantastic family, loving husband James, two beautiful little girls and cheeky cockapoo called Charlie.

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