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Psychiatric Nurses Battling COVID-19

The need for psychiatric nurses has never been greater than it is during the pandemic. The fear, suffering and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 have affected everyone to some degree, from frontline healthcare workers to teachers to the general population. New research shows that patients with a psychiatric diagnosis face a 1.5-fold increased risk for a COVID-related death if they contract the virus compared to COVID-19 patients without a mental health diagnosis.

The widespread need for psychiatric nurses is not unique to this pandemic-era. If you have an interest in working with patients in a mental health setting, an online RN to BSN program can propel your nursing career and give you the tools you need to work in this important field.

Why Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

President of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) Gail R. Stern, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC, stated, “Approximately 56 million American adults are struggling with a mental illness or substance use disorder impacting just about every community and family in some significant way … Despite the urgent need, the supply of skilled, educated and trained mental health professionals has not been able to keep up with growing demand adding an additional barrier to addressing these illnesses.”

Good mental health is essential to overall well-being and directly impacts our daily lives. Stern notes that higher rates of substance abuse and mental health disorders are directly linked to a community’s lower levels of education, higher crime rates and increased homelessness. Because poor mental health has far-reaching effects on individuals and communities, highly skilled psychiatric nurses are in great demand to meet this overwhelming public health need. 

What Role Do Psychiatric Nurses Play in Battling COVID-19?

The psychiatric nurse’s key role is to provide mental health and psychosocial support to those affected by a crisis or disaster and ensure people with mental health needs can access the necessary resources and support. 

Due to social distancing required during the pandemic, marginalized groups such as those experiencing homelessness and individuals with mental health and substance use disorders (SUD) have been particularly vulnerable to isolation. Many are unable to access medications, medical care or continue in recovery programs. As a result, these people are at a higher risk of relapse and death due to accidental overdose or suicide.

Individuals experiencing homelessness or SUDs have a higher risk of suffering from severe cases of COVID-19 and death because they are more likely to smoke and not practice social distancing. Also, drug users who abuse methamphetamines have more compromised respiratory and cardiovascular systems. They are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior such as sharing inhalation or injection devices.

Psychiatric nurses are needed to educate these vulnerable populations and advocate for alternate services that meet their needs during the pandemic.

Additionally, psychiatric nurses are also needed to provide care and support for frontline healthcare workers and individuals who have lost a loved one to the pandemic. Teachers, parents, children and those experiencing economic hardship also require emotional and social support during this time, and maybe professional psychiatric services if required.

How Does the Current Shortage of Psychiatric Nurses Affect the Mental Health System?

In 2019, the APNA released a national workforce assessment wherein the organization warns that the mental health of Americans is threatened by the shortage of professionals available to provide effective and timely care for those affected by mental health and substance abuse disorders. This includes “millions of children and adolescents” and many adults who “increasingly encounter a lack of access to care at a time when suicides and opioid addictions are on the rise nationwide.”

According to the APNA, just 44% of adults and 20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. receive the professional help they need for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Those who seek help often face a lengthy delay in treatment — six to eight years on average for mood disorders and nine to 23 years for anxiety disorders.

Psychiatric nurses play a critical role in the care of COVID-19 patients and those suffering from the pandemic. And with an ever-growing shortage of psychiatric nurses (an estimated need for 250,000 professionals by 2025), Americans’ mental health is increasingly jeopardized as the nation works to manage a healthcare crisis that has taken a toll on its citizens.
Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online RN to BSN program.


American Psychiatric Nurses Association:
Shortage of Trained Professionals a Growing Threat to U.S. Mental Health System 
Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses 

American Psychiatric Nurses Association: COVID-19 Pandemic: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses 

Medscape: Mental Illness Tied to Increased Mortality in COVID-19 

National Center for Biotechnology Information:
COVID-19 and Addiction 
COVID-19: The Hidden Impact on Mental Health and Drug Addiction 

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