Dealing With COVID-19 Post-Traumatic Stress

Strategies for Preserving the Nursing Workforce and Supporting all Vital Frontline Personnel

Therese A. Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN; Nancy M. Valentine, PhD, DSc(hon), MPH, FAAN, FNAP President


Nurs Econ. 2021;39(5):225-238, 250. 

In This Article

Nurses and Anxiety/Depression

TF: You mentioned nurses are at higher risk for suicide. In terms of anxiety and depression, how do nurses compare to the general population?

NV: We know mental illness is the leading cause of disability around the world. So, let's start with that reality.

In looking at anxiety and depression among the U.S. population at large, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, n.d.a) reported 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year. Past year prevalence of any anxiety disorder was higher for females (23.4%) than males (14.3%). An estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

Depression affects approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5% of the population in any given 1-year period. At some point in their lives, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will likely become clinically depressed (NIMH, n.d.b). These are large differences between the sexes.

So, more than 30% of the U.S. population experiences anxiety or depression each year. Women have higher numbers in both categories, so we should not be surprised nurses would be among these statistics. To translate these figures, about 30% of the workforce is experiencing anxiety or depression, both of which are disabling to functioning at one's peak capacity. These problems often can be observed in the workplace.

It is helpful to view the need for interventions as a population health issue, rather than simply as a person-specific, one case at a time, issue. People in healthcare are at higher risk for mental health issues in general, and that was before the pandemic. Shifting this focus and seeing mental health issues along a continuum of severity helps to move away from labeling the need for help in a stigmatizing fashion. We are dealing with an occupational hazard, not weak team members.