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  • Aged care nurses face further challenges as mental ill-health among residents increases

    Author: Nicole Madigan

Each and every Australian has been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another, many affected by continuous lockdowns and restrictions.

But perhaps none more so that residents of aged care facilities and nursing homes, who have been left isolated, unable to receive visitors, and forced to deal with the fear of the disease and confusion over vaccination requirements.

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“Our aged care residents, while possibly feeling protected, may also feel abandoned and empty,” says psychotherapist, Dr Karen Phillip.

“They often wait to see their family, spend time with them, embrace them when they visit.

“Missing this family interaction can devastate an older person.


Clinical Nurse
Frontline Health Brisbane
Registered Nurse - Neurosurgery/ENT
St Vincent's Private Hospital

“Some may feel abandoned by their family too, if they are unable to understand what COVID means.”

This wide range of complex issues are contributing to increasing rates of mental health challenges among the elderly.

“Issues of depression are now commonly experienced by aged care residents. A feeling of loneliness and loss can exacerbate all negative feelings, and emotions can plummet in a downward spiral.

This is further exacerbated by the ongoing fear of catching COVID-19.

These residences have lived with fear for so long and this is very detrimental to their mental health.

“Living is a state of fear without control makes anyone feel vulnerable. Some may even get to the stage of wanting to catch it or die in order to stop the feelings and emotions connected with this anguish, loneliness and fear.”

Unfortunately, the declining mental health of our aged care residents, is contributing to an even more challenging work environment for aged care nurses.

“Our nurses are the front line,” says Dr Phillip.

“They have become the resident’s family, confidant, and support, all while doing an incredibly hard caring role.

“Nurses are so caring, but the stress on them this past almost two years would be exhausting in body, mind and spirit.

Nurses are generally not trained in mental health and are therefore left to simply be a sounding board, support and carer for their residents.

But there’s a potential ripple effect, says Dr Phillip.

“Nurses may feel inadequate to appropriately help their residents, and fear they are not supporting them correctly.

“Nurses may feel angry and frustrated at not knowing what they should do or say to support their residents.

“They want to help but can be uncertain if their support is correct. This may lead to a feeling of inadequacy, anxiety, and lowered self-worth.”

Intense empathy is a trait common to nurses, and may particularly impact aged care nurses, many of whom strongly associate with the struggle their residents are experiencing.

“They can often carry this burden - detrimentally - with them. The weight and stress the nurses carry is draining and exhausting.”

Dr Phillip believes aged care nurses should have ongoing access to counselling support, and should also be provided with basic counselling training, to equip them with the necessary skills to cope with the current aged care environment.

“Learning to understand what the resident is feeling and the reason they feel as they do can assist the nurse to compartmentalise what is occurring in front of them each day.

“Providing basic counselling skills enables the nurses to respond more effectively.”

In addition, aged care nurses must prioritise their own mental health, in order to manage an increasingly challenging, but critical, role. 

“Debrief with each other or preferably with a supervising counsellor.

“Debriefing with a supervisor or professional therapist allows us to share our thoughts and feelings safely, without judgement.

“It is when we do not understand what we are feeling or try to ignore these feelings that mental health issues can occur.

“All our nurses need counselling support throughout their careers regardless of who they are caring for.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.