Nurses injured by sharps at risk of psychiatric trauma
New research has revealed that people who experience needlestick injuries can suffer persistent and substantial psychiatric illness, or depression.
Needlestick injuries are a daily risk to nurses, medical and health ancillary workers. The physical health effects of a sharps injury are well known, but this new research demonstrates the related mental-health consequences.
Researchers found that those who were injured by a needlestick also suffered psychiatric trauma, similar in severity to trauma caused by other events such as road-traffic accidents. The psychological effects had a major impact on work attendance, family relationships and sexual health, while the duration of the psychiatric symptoms were linked to the length of time the injured person had to wait for blood-test results.
Although sharps injuries mostly occur in health-care settings, many other employees are also at risk, including prison and police officers, park wardens, street cleaners and refuse collectors, tattoo artists, and others who may come across carelessly, or maliciously discarded, hypodermic needles.
According to the Society of Occupational Medicine, a sharp contaminated with infected blood can transmit more than 20 diseases, including hepatitis B, C and HIV. It is this transmission risk that causes anxiety and stress among the estimated 100,000 people who experience a needlestick injury every year.
Professor Ben Green, who undertook the research, said: “The psychological aspects of needlestick injuries are often overlooked. The chances of physical damage, infection and so on, are what are focused on by society, but these risks are, in reality, very small. The main health implication of needlestick incidents is probably psychiatric injury caused by fear and worry.”
The Society of Occupational Medicine is calling for much greater awareness of the psychiatric and physical effects of sharps injuries.
“Employers should not overlook the anxiety faced by employees worried about the possibility of contracting an infection, such as hepatitis or AIDS,” explained the Society’s president, Dr Richard Heron.
“We need to reduce the incidence of needlestick injuries by raising awareness, education and making safer equipment available, but we also need to ensure that people have rapid access to post-exposure support, including psychological help if needed.”
The study was published in the scientific journal Occupational Medicine.
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