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Nurse shares emotional toll the pandemic is taking on mental health, worry about long-term effects

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Posted at 11:54 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 15:43:21-05

RANDALLSTOWN, Md. — The current wave of COVID-19 continues to put a strain on doctors and nurses.

There are concerns that the rapidly increasing number of hospitalizations and patient deaths is putting the mental health of health care workers at risk.

After dealing with the coronavirus for nine months, with doctors and nurses already stretched thin, they brace themselves for what another wave of COVID-19 will bring.

An intensive care unit nurse at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Maryland, said “at the height of this pandemic, we were essentially in survival mode, going to work everyday with this new virus, being fearful. Fearful that we're going to take this home to our families, not really knowing enough about it to know are we really protected with what we're doing.”

The ICU nurse admits the ongoing pandemic doesn't just have frontline workers concerned about their physical health, now there's also a concern for the state of their mental health.

“The patients are sicker, than our traditional, regular ICU patients that come in, which in itself has taken a toll because we are exhausting all medical intervention possible and as a nurse, putting your heart and soul into taking care of and trying to save a patient and we fail,” the nurse said.

COVID safety protocols leave patients to die alone, without anyone by their side except for a nurse.

“You know, I’m going into a room, to hold a hand, or to hold an iPad and let a family say goodbye. That probably has been the toughest part for me. As an ICU nurse, I’m used to that. I’m used to hearing from patients and families at end of life but not to this capacity that we're seeing with the virus. Not these numbers of patients. And also not being the only contact that they're getting,” the nurse said.

A recent survey by the non-profit organization Mental Health America, found the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of doctors and nurses.

Mental Health America president and CEO Paul Gionfriddo said “the majority of them are experiencing conditions like stress and anxiety but more than half are questioning whether or not they're in the wrong profession at this point. Three-quarters are concerned about their kids and whether or not they're going to physically, negatively affect their kids or even emotionally whether or not they're giving the support to their children and families that they need.”

Gionfriddo worries about the long-term effects the pandemic will have on frontline workers.

“Some people will develop PTSD, others will develop psychosis, others will develop depression. The whole range of mental health conditions will emerge out of this pandemic among people who were healthy going into it, and who would have remained healthy if they were not put under the stress and pressure that they've experienced in trying to provide care to others during the pandemic,” Gionfriddo said.

Considering the increasing level of stress from dealing with life and death on a day-to-day basis, some may wonder what keeps this ICU nurse going to work everyday instead of calling out or just calling it quits.

“I took an oath as a nurse, and I think that's instilled in a lot of us. We have that responsibility, to the community and our families,” the nurse said.

She decided to become a nurse and she said it's in her family. Her stepmother is a nurse, one of her aunts is a nurse, and it's something she always wanted to do, which is help people.

This story originally reported by Mark Roper on WMAR2News.com.