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The last two years have been stressful for healthcare workers. They are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis and are both lauded as heroes and villainized by various population segments. This isn’t everyday workplace stress; many healthcare workers are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder due to their experiences. What should you know about PTSD in nurses, and what can you do about it as a leader or manager in your organization?

What is PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis for people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. These things may include natural disasters, terrorism, combat, rape, or anyone who has received threats of death or violence. The trauma causes intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings even after the event is long past. They may have nightmares or flashbacks and have trouble relating to others.

Signs of PTSD in Nurses

Experts categorize the symptoms of PTSD into four main categories:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance of discussing the experience
  • Adverse changes in mood or way of thinking
  • Changes in physical reactions.

For example, a nurse with PTSD may be easily startled, have memory problems, or engage in self-destructive behavior like excessive drinking.

Risk Factors

PTSD can develop at any age for any reason related to a traumatic event. It’s estimated that, out of 100 people, about every seven or eight will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. And not everyone with PTSD has experienced trauma directly. Some people develop symptoms after a friend, relative, partner, or coworker experiences a dangerous event. It can also occur after a sudden, unexpected death. Circumstances around the COVID-19 crisis have created an environment ripe for PTSD among medical professionals.

Treatment for PTSD

Therapy is recommended for anyone dealing with the effects of PTSD. Working with a therapist can help alleviate the anxiety and insomnia that can occur with the disorder. Many therapists use cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). For some people, medication may also help.

How to Help Nurses Cope

As a healthcare employer, there are some things you can do to help your nurses better cope with the pandemic. Some hospitals have implemented a variety of tools to give nursing staff a much-needed break. Ideas include:

  • A game room to take their mind off of the trauma and focus on engaging in fun activities, like arcade games.
  • Formal retreats that include mental health professionals to allow a safe space for nurses to talk about what’s going on.
  • A place for comforts such as the “Serenity Lounges” at Cedars-Sanai where nurses can relax and make use of self-soothing items like teas, lotions, or aromatherapy.

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Contact Fortus Healthcare Resources to learn more today about our travel RN program

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