Study finds high levels of PTSD in nursing and care staff dealing with COVID-19

Published: 13 October 2020

A University of Glasgow mathematician has helped map the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing and care home staff in Italy.

A University of Glasgow mathematician has helped map the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing and care home staff in Italy.
Dr David MacTaggart of the School of Mathematics and Statistics led on the data curation, formal analysis and methodology for a study of more than 1,000 Italian nursing and care home staff, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The researchers, led by psychologists from the University of Trento, found that 43% of the staff surveyed were likely to have developed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their experiences caring for the sick and the dying during the first months of the pandemic.
Italy was one of the first countries to be seriously affected during the first weeks of the pandemic’s spread across the globe, with the most severe outbreaks occurring in the north of the country. Between February and May of 2020, approximately 86% of all COVID-related deaths occurred in the North of Italy.
Dr MacTaggart said: “My usual area of research interest is in fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, but I was proud to be able to do my bit to help deepen our understanding of the mental health impact of COVID-19 on some of the people who have been hit hardest by the stress of frontline care.
“Medical staff have of course played vitally important roles in dealing with the virus, but nursing and care home workers have been working incredibly hard too, often with little to no additional funding, equipment or recognition.
“Italy has the world’s second-largest population of people aged 65 or over – the people most at risk of death from COVID-19. Older patients were often transferred from hospital to nursing and care home settings to free up medical staff to care for younger patients, which hastened a rapid and deadly spread of the disease. Dealing with the consequences of that spread was incredibly difficult for nursing and care home staff on every level.
“As phase one of the lockdown in Italy came to a close, we thought it was important to assess the mental health of those home workers so that appropriate support could be arranged during future outbreaks of the virus.”
Dr MacTaggart helped to design the assessment for workers, which was eventually answered by 1,071 respondents between June and July 2020. He identified an approach which would usefully group together respondents from care homes across the North of Italy, and weight the surveyed population against a population of reference.
Dr MacTaggart added: “The rate of negative mental health impacts on respondents was higher than we expected from the results of similar studies from China. We found that women and those who have had recent contact with COVID-positive persons were the most likely to report moderate to severe symptoms.  
“We’ve built a strong framework for assessing levels of PTSD in nursing and care home staff, which we hope can be used to develop a more comprehensive framework for interventions for those who need them most. The team has now begun to develop such interventions.”
The team’s paper, titled ‘Prevalence of post-traumatic symptomatology and anxiety in residential nursing and care home workers following the first COVID-19 outbreak in Northern Italy, is published in Royal Society Open Science.

First published: 13 October 2020

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