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Caring for the Ones Who Care: Mental Health of Korean Nurses During COVID-19
Researchers determine salient features affecting the mental health of working Korean nurses during the novel coronavirus outbreak
Since the onset of COVID-19, healthcare systems have been struggling to cater to the rising cases. Nurses caring for COVID-19 patients work in high-risk work environments for prolonged periods. However, little is known about how the dire situation affects the mental health of the nurses. A group of researchers has now sought to systematically understand this in the Korean nursing population and suggest recommendations to improve their well-being.
Researchers deep-dive into factors that influence the mental health of nurses working on the COVID-19 frontline.
Photo courtesy: Shutterstock
December 2019 saw the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a standstill. Crippled by severe fever, dry cough, breathlessness, and a host of other symptoms, COVID-19 patients often require medical attention for prolonged periods to avoid complications or mortality. Due to the sheer number of cases, the nursing population has been overburdened with work, catering to the needs of the affected individuals.
Such a dire situation warrants intensive research into preserving the well-being of these nurses involved. Identifying this need, a group of researchers deep-dived into different features associated with the mental health of Korean nurses involved in COVID-19 care, according to a recent study published in International Nursing Review. They have also suggested recommendations that can be applied not just in the Korean context, but also globally. This study was supported by funding (# 2019-ER7101-01) by Research of the Korea National Institute of Health (KNIH).
This study utilized data from the Korean Nurses’ Health Study, which analyzes the effect of environmental, vocational, and lifestyle factors on the health of Korean nurses. Initiated from 2013, the study has been conducted in different phases, of which the third phase has been in progress since 2019. The current study applied a module specifically designed to incorporate details associated with the COVID-19 situation, to better understand different caveats related to the mental health of Korean nurses. Speaking about the background of the study, Dr. Oksoo Kim, Professor at College of Nursing, Ewha Womans University, Korea, and one of the lead researchers of the study, says, “Nurses are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection because they are in closer, longer-duration contact with patients. These situations can negatively affect the mental health of nurses.”
The researchers identified two broad factors that contribute to the mental health of Korean nurses working with COVID-19 patients: hospital safety climate, which involves accessibility to personal protective equipment (PPE), safety provided by PPE, safety of the work environment etc., and COVID-19 related work-type, which implies either the diagnostic or treatment aspect of work that the nurses have to be involved in.
The results of the study showed that the nurses were more likely to experience mental duress when the hospital safety climate was not as reassuring, especially when they have to constantly work under the fear of transmitting the disease to their family, and friends. Nurses involved in COVID-19 screening also had a lower probability of developing mental health issues when compared to those treating COVID-19 patients. Specifically, nurses who were employed in treatment of patients with COVID-19 for more than three months without any change in hospital duties were more likely experience mental health problems.
To counter these issues that negatively impact these COVID-19 warriors, the researchers suggest various measures. First, they urge the hospital authorities to ensure that a safe working environment, with easy access to PPE, is provided to the nurses. Second, they propose regular mental health consultations for the COVID-19 frontline nurses. Third, and most importantly, they propose the hospitals to restrict COVID-19 shifts for each nurse at less than three months at a time. Needless to say, the situation can be resolved only with concerted efforts from the hospital staff, and authorities.
Overall, the researchers identified that Korean nurses are more likely to experience fear, anxiety, and depression, when subjected to prolonged working conditions with COVID-19 patients, for a period greater than three months. In this regard, Dr. Kim says, “Caring for patients with COVID-19 had a negative impact on fear, anxiety and depressive symptoms. However, the higher was the perceived hospital safety climate, the lower were the nurses’ psychological symptoms. Further research on the mental health of nurses is warranted.”
Title of original paper
Mijung Cho, Oksoo Kim, Yanghee Pang, Bohye Kim, Hyunseon Jeong, Jisun Lee, Heeja Jung, Sun Young Jeong, Hyun-Young Park, Hansol Choi, Hyunju Dan
Factors affecting frontline Korean nurses’ mental health
during the COVID-19 pandemic
International Nursing Review
College of Nursing, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea; College of Nursing, Konyang University, Daejeon, Korea; Department of Precision Medicine, Korea National Institute of Health, Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea; Division of Population Research, Department of Precision Medicine; and Korea National Institute of Health, Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea
About National Institute of Health in Korea
The Korea National Institute of Health (KNIH), one of the major operating components of the Ministry of Health and Welfare affiliated to the Korea Disease control and Prevention, leads the nation’s medical research. Over the past seven decades, the KNIH has made unwavering efforts to enhance the public’s health and innovate biomedical research. The KNIH seeks to eradicate diseases and make people healthier. The KNIH establishes a scientific basis and evidence underlying health policy as well as provides national research infrastructures. We also promote public health research. To this end, we make efforts to enrich a health research environment by granting funds to research projects and keeping our resources, data, and facilities more open and accessible to researchers.
About Professor Oksoo Kim
Oksoo Kim is a Professor at the College of Nursing in Ewha Woman’s University, Seoul, Korea. Her group is conducting the Korea Nurses' Health Study (KNHS). The KNHS is a prospective cohort study of female nurses, focusing on the effects of occupational, environmental, and lifestyle risk factors on the health of Korean women. The study protocols and questionnaires of the KNHS are based on the Nurses' Health Study 3 (NHS3) being conducted in the United States. The KNHS, which started in 2013, is still ongoing. Oksoo Kim received a PhD in Nursing, from University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1996.