Nurses need mental health support more than ever

December 22, 2021, 3:35 PM UTC
A nurse puts on her personal protective gear.
The sheer volume of patients throughout the pandemic, combined with higher-than-usual death counts and demanding treatment and safety procedures, has pushed many members of the nursing community to their breaking points.
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Nineteen months ago, the Delaware Valley region came to a standstill when the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds streaked across the sky to thank our region’s nurses and health care workers. Signs recognizing “health care heroes” adorned the streets leading up to our local hospitals and health care facilities.

COVID-19 cast an intense spotlight on the tireless, much-needed, and heroic efforts of nurses. It also revealed that we, as a society, need to do more to address the stress and anxiety nurses and frontline workers experience when trying to save lives. Alongside efforts to improve staffing, raise wages, and promote safe workplaces, we must also ensure that nurses have convenient access to mental health resources and that there is no stigma associated with seeking or getting support.

At over 3.8 million, nurses are the largest group of health care professionals in the U.S. Their stories of providing compassionate, high-quality care in challenging circumstances are inspiring. With jobs that are physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, those in the nursing profession also experience a disproportionate share of stress and anxiety.

Prior to the pandemic, in February 2020, a University of California San Diego School of Medicine study found that nurses had a higher risk of suicide than the general public. New information has similarly found that nurses are more likely to commit suicide than physicians, and the contrast between these two groups is stark, with female nurses more than 70% more likely to die by suicide than female physicians. Similarly, the suicide rate for nurses is 23% higher than for the general public and, when adjusted for gender—with 80% to 85% of nurses being women—the risk of suicide may be nearly double that of the general population.

As COVID-19 cases once again trend upward, it is easy to understand why nurses feel pushed to their limits. The sheer volume of patients throughout the pandemic, combined with higher-than-usual death counts and demanding treatment and safety procedures, have pushed many members of the nursing community to their breaking points. Imagine for a moment that you entered a profession to care for the sick, only to have hospitals nearly overwhelmed with patients clinging to life from a virus never seen before, with treatments and clinical recommendations being implemented in real time. It is very likely there may be short-term and long-term effects on nurse mental health. We have a plan to help address this.

As some have noted, the pandemic has been an accelerant to trends, and more people are successfully accessing their health care and other resources through apps and telemedicine. That’s why our three organizations, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, and NeuroFlow, recently announced our unique partnership to allow nurses to engage and receive on-demand wellness, resilience, and mental health support and treatment through an asynchronous population health platform.

Through this platform, 1,800 nurses will be able to engage with on-demand tools, on their own schedules. The program is both smartphone app-based and available on the web. It will allow nurses to track sleep and mood scores and journal their daily routines and stressors. Uniquely, the reactive and intelligent user experience adjusts content, programs, and support resources based on trends and the needs of the individual user. A clinical care team provided by NeuroFlow will remotely, and in a confidential manner, independent of their employer, monitor activity and trends, watch for urgent alerts, and escalate the level of care based on need—even deploying response coordinators to direct immediate care if circumstances warrant.

Initially, the platform will be available to nurses at Nazareth Hospital, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, and St. Mary Medical Center. Based on the response and the level of engagement, the service could be expanded to more hospitals or additional health systems.

Health care is evolving, becoming more accessible and meeting the patients where they are. Leveraging telehealth and app-based platforms will not solve all the issues faced by our frontline health care heroes, but it is a positive step as we recognize the unique mental health needs of the professionals who have sacrificed to care for us throughout the pandemic.

Chris Molaro is the CEO of NeuroFlow. Jim Woodward is the president and CEO of Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic. Stephen Fera is the executive vice president of public affairs at Independence Blue Cross.

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