Psychological wounds inflicted on ICU workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Spring 2022

Trauma & Health
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Denise Carballea

WORLDWIDE, EMERGENCY HEALTHCARE WORKERS have responded and adjusted to the increased

workload and demand across all healthcare provisions.

The intensive care unit (ICU) is a setting where staff members are already at risk of experiencing significant psychological distress, which was exacerbated during the Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) outbreak (Greenberg et al., 2021). Studies have highlighted increased levels of insomnia, depression, anxiety, fear, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within this population (Ezzat, 2021; Geoffroy et al., 2020). Increased mental health concerns result from isolation protocols, loss of social support, and constant change within the workplace during the pandemic. Since ICU medical workers are regularly exposed to traumatic situations as part of their jobs, they may be susceptible to predicaments that continue to impact their mental health. It is imperative to recognize stressors experienced by ICU personnel following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and recognize the mental health implications faced by this population in these unprecedented times.

COVID-19 ICU Stressors

Fear of Contraction. ICU employees experience increased worry regarding possible infection and health outcomes. In order to avoid possible contraction and reduce contagion, personal protective equipment (PPE) measures have been set in place. Lack of PPE and the scarcity of intensive care medicine and technological supplies heighten psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and feelings of anguish and fear (da Silva & Barbosa, 2021). Those working in the ICU manage critical COVID-19 cases and face the risk of being a carrier or putting others at risk, such as colleagues, family, and friends, which may further contribute to psychological turmoil (Mosheva et al., 2021). The aforementioned experiences and high levels of stress have been identified as factors that lead to increased absenteeism, lower levels of satisfaction with employment, lower self-efficacy, decreased staff morale, and lower overall quality of life (De Hock et al., 2021; Søvold et al., 2021).