How many nurses are depressed?
As nursing is a diverse profession with many different settings and specialties, it is not straightforward to answer this question.
However, one leading review on this topic estimated that Registered Nurses are around twice more likely to develop depression than other types of workers (Brandford and Reed, 2016).
Moreover, data summarised in a recent review in the UK titled, “The mental health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives in the UK” similarly suggests that rates of depression may be around 30% in nurses for some nurses.
This represents a significant problem both for the individuals’ affected, the patients they treat, the organisations they work for and society as a whole.
Has COVID increased levels of depression in nurses?
The current context of COVID has meant that many nurses have been faced with additional stress in the working environment.
Working in ICU and emergency settings is well known to increase nurses’ risk of developing psychological disorders.
Therefore, with many nurses having been redeployed to work in frontline roles during the pandemic, it might be expected that rates of depression have increased.
The literature paints exactly this picture.
Olaya et al (2021) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies evaluating mental health complaints in healthcare workers. This basically means they took the data from previously published studies (57 studies, to be precise) and used statistical procedures to look at the picture as a whole.
The data were quite varied, coming from 17 different countries. They found the pooled prevalence of depression was 25% for nurses (vs 24% for doctors) but 43% for frontline professionals.
Take that in for a second. Almost half of all frontline workers had developed depression in this huge sample of thousands of nurses. This conclusively answers the question, can nurses have depression?
And how does the prevalence of 25% for nurses in general compare with the rest of the population? According to a study by Bueno-Notival et al (2020) the pooled prevalence of depression in the community was also 25%.
This means that overall, nurses did not fare worse than the population at large during COVID, however frontline nurses were almost twice as likely to be depressed.
Alarmingly, this 25% rate is still very high. Pre-pandemic, the prevalence of depression in adults was estimated to be just 3.44% in 2017.
The takeaway here then is that the pandemic has led to a seven fold increase in the rate of depression in both nurses and others in general. For frontline workers, this figure is over ten times higher.
Nurses have historically been more likely to experience depression than other people. The impact COVID has had makes it more likely they will continue to experience this condition.
It is therefore imperative that adequate support is provided for nurses and midwives to recover from the current pandemic, and prepare for ongoing stressful work.
Nurse Wellbeing Mission are committed to providing nurses with tools and techniques to help enhance wellbeing and reduce the chances of developing conditions like depression.