Forty-five per cent of hospital staff report moderate or severe symptoms of PTSD

The high levels of post-traumatic symptoms found in this study are higher than the current best international estimate for healthcare workers

Almost half (45 per cent) of hospital staff reported feeling moderate or severe symptoms of PTSD during the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

Findings from a research study exploring the mental health of Dublin’s general hospital staff during the Covid period revealed significant impacts on doctors, nurses, and radiographers, including high levels of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicidal thinking.

The COWORKER Study, developed to investigate the mental health impact of the pandemic on Dublin general hospital staff and to help inform appropriate responses, involved researchers from Trinity College Dublin, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Services. It was led by Declan McLoughlin, Research Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity and Consultant Psychiatrist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

Staff in three large Dublin general hospitals (St James’s Hospital, Tallaght University Hospital, and Beaumont Hospital) were invited to participate – with the study also aiming to provide an opportunity for doctors, nurses, and radiographers to recognise if they have been experiencing mental health difficulties since the pandemic, and to seek support if required.

The study – which came from a cross-sectional anonymous survey of 377 Dublin healthcare staff during the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2021 – also saw 52 per cent of respondents reporting a low mood, and 13 per cent of respondents reporting that they had thought of ending their life over the previous week. A total of five per cent reported planning to end their lives.

Staff also reported high levels of moral injury, which is the psychological distress experienced when one is forced to witness or perform acts that go against one’s ethical beliefs. This concept arose in military mental health research but has gained importance in research studying healthcare workers’ mental health due to Covid-19-related scenarios. For example, healthcare workers may have had no option but to ration care when resources were scarce, or they may have had to stop family from visiting their loved ones due to restrictions.

Speaking about the impact of the findings, Prof. McLoughlin said: “The pandemic has presented immense challenges for hospitals, their staff, patients and families. While there have been many studies internationally examining the psychological impact on hospital staff, this is the first to examine the impacts on those working in Dublin hospitals.

“We hope that the study’s findings will highlight potential areas of concern for hospital management and staff so that they can address this and seek support as required.”

The results of the peer-reviewed study have been published as an Open Access paper in the Irish Journal of Medical Science. The paper can be read here.

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