ER nurses often suffer from 'death anxiety'

The day-to-day exposure to life-and-death situations takes its toll on emergency room nurses, who often experience "death anxiety," a state which makes them more conscious of their own mortality and creates a high level of stress and unease. A new article in the journal Emergency Nurse calls for hospitals leaders to recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition and put interventions in place to help improve the mental health of their staff.

Nurses are especially vulnerable to the debilitating condition because of the nature of their work and the constant exposure to death, writes Mike Brady, a doctoral research student lecturer and clinical supervisor paramedic at Swansea University Open University South West Ambulance Service, NHS Foundation Trust.

Healthcare organizations must make nurses aware of the risks of the disorder, also known as thanatophobia, and provide staff with access to interventions to prevent the condition from affecting their physical and mental health, he says. Although nurses may be well aware of the daily stress of the job and potential for burnout, he says in a statement that many emergency nurses and paramedics may be unaware of death anxiety, even though they are they are exposed to it in their everyday practice.

Brady suggests organizations consider rotating emergency healthcare workers so they aren't overly exposed to mortality cues. Healthcare administrators must also assess staff who are involved in critical cases against a trauma risk-management tool to see if they are at high-risk for death anxiety.

And, Brady writes, nursing schools should also include education on death into their curriculums to prepare students for what they will face and help them confront their beliefs about death.

Another way nursing schools can help students cope with the stress they'll encounter on the job is to teach them the chaos theory so they can handle the intensity of the emergency room and keep calm in stressful situations, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Elena Capella, assistant professor and director of the online Master in Nursing program at San Francisco's School of Nursing and Health Professions, says she teaches students that a zen-like mindset is essential to handle the stress of 12-hour shifts, lack of sleep and a poor diet, which often lead to sleeping problems, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease

To learn more:
- here's the article abstract
- read the statement

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