The social impact of COVID-19 as perceived by the employees of a UK mental health service.

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This study explored the perceptions of NHS employees working within a UK mental health trust in relation to the social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Questioning focussed on social isolation and desire to interact with others before and since COVID-19; effects of safety measures including personal protective equipment and social distancing; and perceived influences of the pandemic on service users and social aspects of service delivery. All employees at an English NHS mental health service were invited to complete an anonymous online questionnaire (July-September 2020), resulting in 464 completed questionnaires. Response frequencies were summed across the total sample, and the influence of patient contact, age, and vulnerability to COVID-19 were explored using pairwise comparisons. Approximately two thirds of employees felt there had been a fundamental change in how they felt about interacting with others, and many had lost confidence in their ability to relate emotionally to others. Respondents were keen to adhere to safety guidance, but the majority believed that face masks and social distancing could have a detrimental effect on communication and rapport within the workplace. Other concerns included passing on the virus, social isolation of employees and service users, and a reduction in community services. COVID-19 safety measures may impact morale, communication, empathy, and the provision of client-centred care. More generally, the pandemic has changed the attitudes of mental health workers towards social interaction, with younger employees reporting more mental health difficulties that may be linked to concerns about longer term social change.

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Authors: Clare M Eddy