Throughout the pandemic, ICU staff have had to work daily in areas where there is a high risk of Covid-19 exposure, wear PPE, and cope with the challenges of working in a high-stress atmosphere where ethically challenging decisions have had to be made.

Anonymous surveys of 709 healthcare workers working in nine ICU’s across England showed that while over half reported good mental health (59%), 45% showed signs of severe depressions (6%), PTSD (40%), severe anxiety (11%), and problem drinking (7%). And even more concerning one in eight (13%) reported suicidal thoughts, and thoughts of self-harm in the past two weeks.

The ‘mental health of ICU staff should be an immediate priority’

Lead author, Professor Neil Greenberg, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London wrote: 'Our results show a substantial burden of mental health symptoms being reported by ICU staff towards the end of the first wave in July and July 2020. The severity of symptoms we identified are highly likely to impair some ICU staffs ability to provide high-quality care as well as negatively impacting on their quality of life.’

'The high rate of mortality amongst COVID-19 patients admitted to ICU, coupled with difficulty in communication and providing adequate end-of-life support to patients, and their next of kin because of visiting restrictions, are very likely to have been highly challenging stressors for all staff working in ICUs.'

This report collaborates a previous article authored by Prof Greenberg in the BMJ that viewed mental distress for clinicians and healthcare workers in the first wave of the pandemic through the lens of ‘moral injury’. In that article, Prof Greenberg argued that the unprecedented condition of the pandemic has put healthcare professionals under extreme pressure.

Moreover, Prof Greenberg explained they have been put them in situations where they have had to make decisions with limited resources that in any normal circumstances would go against their moral or ethical code. And as a result, have experienced decreasing levels of self-worth and increasing levels of mental distress.

Prof Greenberg concluded that this new research demonstrates that there needs to be a national strategy to protect the mental wellbeing of staff and that further research is also necessary to understand the pervasiveness of mental distress more concretely in ICU staff.