*Trigger Warning: Suicide is a topic that is brought up in this blog.
Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon
We are now in the third calendar year of a global pandemic. Wow, when I say that, it makes me think about life before the pandemic. I remember not wearing a mask, not worrying about the germs others around me had (except when I saw a child with a runny nose), and I remember not even thinking working from home was a possibility with the career I chose. I also think about how flu season didn’t affect me, it was something that NEVER crossed my mind. When we look back at the past couple of years, I am sure those of you in the medical profession can also speak to many changes that occurred in your day-to-day jobs, the increase in stress, increase in worry, and the focus on how to support your patients, while also struggling with the fact that you may bring home a sickness to the people you live with.
I watched a video the other day that featured the husband of a nurse discussing the stress they endured as a family during the pandemic. He talked about having a child during the spring of 2020, and how his wife went back to work before her maternity leave was over because she wanted to help in any way she could. He also shared how their family had to make the hard decision to not see her because of the risk of exposure. She did not get to see her family, and they did not get to see her unless it was through a screen. After hearing this story, it just reminded me that the stressful experiences were so different for each nurse during the past couple of years… The pandemic is a traumatic event that the whole world has experienced, and, even though it has affected people’s lives in unique ways, it has been a traumatic experience for us all. I also want to acknowledge how much it has changed the lives of nurses all around the world. I cannot imagine the amount of uncertainty, stress, and hardships all of you have endured before and during the pandemic because of the field of work you are in.
There was a study done on how the pandemic is a traumatic stressor, and the research discussed how traumatic stress symptoms are showing up even though this event does not fit the current PTSD models. Now, when I think about the pandemic and being a nurse, it does fit. The increase in stress, patients, and overall changes in your daily lives, including both work and home life, is really traumatic to our brains and bodies. A question to ask yourself is, “When I have a reminder of the stressors that I experience/experienced in my work life, do I struggle to regulate?” This could be as small as a scent you had during a stressful part of the pandemic that now triggers you into ‘hyperarousal’ mode. No matter who you are in the world, you have been affected by the pandemic, and there will be shifts in how you interact with the world. Nurses and people in the medical profession have experienced a different type of trauma than someone who switched from working in the office to working from home. This does not mean one type of trauma is ‘better’ than the other, but nurses have an even higher likelihood to experience PTSD symptoms related to the pandemic.
In looking for research articles and overall discussion of the pandemic, trauma, and the medical community, I found an article that was posted on May 8, 2019 about PTSD and suicide in the Medical Professions. The Rising Concern of PTSD and Suicide in Medical Staff | Intiva Health. This article provides the statistic that 18% of nurses experienced PTSD, compared to the 8% that experience PTSD in the general population. The discussion then moves to the experience of gore, death, stress, fear, and sadness, as well as difficult working hours, irregular sleep, and an inability to develop eating routines. Basic needs for nurses are not being met, and this greatly impacts our mental health and our resources to be able to cope with stressful situations. Another statistic provided in this article talks about the rate of suicide in doctors, 300-400 each year, which is a rate much higher than the general population.
The big stigma of trauma in the medical profession was also addressed in the article, and that is something I discussed in my last blog. Medical professionals do not want to go on record regarding their mental health due to a fear of losing their jobs. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to hold all of the traumatic events of patients, their families, and your coworkers and feel like you cannot get support due to fear of losing your job. This article also made me wonder, what are those statistics now? With the pandemic amplifying many of the already hard/traumatic situations you all go through, what would those statistics look like today? And how can we work to change these statistics? The article does talk about how to combat these statistics, but I am wondering, from you all, do these solutions the article brings up under the “What can be done” title still fit?
Lastly, if you feel you are suffering from symptoms of PTSD, please reach out for support from a professional.