Oregon nurses are experiencing increased mental health symptoms

Oregon nurses have had higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions than the general population since the pandemic began. Mental health symptoms also increased from health care professional’s pre-pandemic levels, according to a report from the Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN). 

 

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Executive director of OCN, Jane Bitton, said nurses are especially more susceptible to mental health issues due to their exhaustion and constant stress.  

“It goes back to that saying, we’re in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. And the storm is pretty bad. I would argue that health care workers have taken a brunt force in this entire experience.”

Although Bitton said nurses are trained for stressful situations, she emphasized that with the multiple tragedies bringing people into Oregon hospitals, like wildfires and protests, nurses are beyond an exhausted state.

“You know that feeling you get when you’re too tired to sleep, that is where the nursing profession in Oregon is right now.”

Bitton said that at the beginning of the pandemic, the main concern was the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) to properly protect themselves, but as the pandemic progressed, the concern shifted to adequate training, scheduling management and mental health struggles, according to the report. 

Nurses and health care professionals experience significantly higher rates of insomnia, depression, anxiety and stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also prevalent with 21% of health care workers experiencing moderate symptoms, according to the report. Typically burnout and mental health solutions, like yoga and taking time off, are hard to come by due to scheduling and are not the best approach to helping nurses on a wide scale, according to Bitton. 

The report states:

“While many nurses expressed high levels of altruism in the desire to treat COVID-19 patients, the significant burden placed on nurses and health care workers likely contributes to increased job burnout and increased thoughts about resigning.”

Many organizations introduced interventions to aid health care workers and provided them needed support, including mental health and counseling services. However, most health care workers showed that adequate PPE and scheduling proved to be more useful than mental health programs. 

The report states:

“They [researchers] conclude proactive organizational approaches, such as the availability of PPE, adequate training on how to properly utilize PPE and work scheduling to enable adequate rest may be more effective and less stigmatizing to staff.”

There is a notable disconnect between what health care workers need to do for themselves and what employers are offering, according to Bitton. She said organizations need to research different strategies to optimize helping health care workers logistically and mentally. 

“The impact of the pandemic is going to impact the nursing workforce for a really long time. If we don’t look at what that problem is, then we are going to have a workforce issue where we’re going to have a shortage of nurses in the state, and that is going to impact healthcare.”

OCN is looking into these issues to figure out how to best support Oregon’s nursing workforce.