ICU Nurse Takes Her Own Life After Caring for Coronavirus Patients

King’s College Hospital in the United Kingdom has just lost one of its ICU nurses to an apparent suicide. The facility has seen eight patients die of coronavirus since the outbreak began, bringing the country’s death toll up to 422.

The woman was in her 20s when she took her own life. Authorities have yet to release her name out of respect for the family’s privacy. Officials believe she was working in the same ICU where coronavirus patients were being treated. The facility was quickly running out of ICU beds at the time of her death, but it’s unclear whether the incident is related to the outbreak.

The U.K.’s National Health System is quickly ramping up capacity around the country to help providers care for the growing number of coronavirus patients. The Army is considering turning the country’s ExCel Conference Centre in the Docklands into a field hospital, which would accommodate up to 4,000 hospital beds.

As we react to this tragic death, we’re shining a spotlight on the mental health of care providers during this ongoing crisis. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or experiencing thoughts of suicide, find help before it’s too late.

Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus

Why does a 20-year-old nurse at the beginning of her career take her own life? It’s possible that the stress of caring for coronavirus patients started to weigh on her. Without enough personal protection equipment to go around, many U.K. healthcare providers are putting their health and safety at risk as they care for virus patients. Providers are going without face masks, hazmat suits, and other essential safety gear. This also means providers could be spreading the virus to their loved ones without their knowledge, which only adds to the stress of caring for patients.

For some healthcare providers, particularly new nurses, responding to the outbreak may be more than they can handle. Some providers may feel traumatized or overwhelmed by what’s going on around them. After all, most nursing schools don’t teach their students how to prepare for a situation like the coronavirus outbreak. The global healthcare industry is truly in unknown territory, and some providers may have trouble going to work as normal.

Tips for Dealing with Stress, Anxiety, Depression, and Thoughts of Suicide During the Coronavirus Crisis

Studies show depression and other negative emotions tend to be more common among healthcare providers compared to the general public. Prevalence rates of depression, anxiety, and stress were found to be 32.4%, 41.2%, and 41.2% respectively. Depressive symptoms also tend to be more common among U.S. healthcare workers than those in other countries. For example, around 35-41% of nurses in the U.S. suffer from depression, while just 10% of Canadian nurses feel the same way. Poor mental health can affect patient outcomes as nurses struggle with the task at hand.

Use these tips to monitor the health of your team as you continue responding to the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Keep an eye on your fellow healthcare providers throughout the day, especially if one of your colleagues loses a patient to the coronavirus. Ask them how they’re feeling and encourage them to take a break, if possible.
  • Talk to your staff about managing their emotions during the outbreak. Make sure your team has access to mental health resources, including counselors and social workers. Do not ignore signs of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness even as you and your team work overtime to respond to the outbreak.
  • Make sure your team is up to the task at hand. If a nurse is having trouble working with coronavirus patients or in the ICU or ER, consider moving them to another department or ward where they could be more useful.
  • Encourage your team to stay healthy outside of work by eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Tell them to avoid overusing alcohol and other substances that may worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety during this time.
  • Encourage your team to talk about their emotions with their loved ones. If their spouse or roommate notices unusual behavior, depressive symptoms or a sudden change in mood, they should bring it to their loved one’s attention.

The wellbeing of your fellow nurses can change on a dime during this crisis. Someone may appear fine one minute, only to lose their cool a minute later. We are all under a lot of pressure at the moment, but we can still be there for each other. Support one another and be respectful of each other’s emotions during this stressful time.

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