The mental health impact of COVID-19 on pre-registration nursing students in Australia: Findings from a national cross-sectional study
Journal of Advanced Nursing
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Aim: The study aimed to measure and describe the mental health impact of COVID-19 on Australian pre-registration nursing students. Background: The COVID -19 pandemic has had a swift and significant impact on nursing students across the globe. The pandemic was the catalyst for the closure of schools and universities across many countries. This necessary measure caused additional stressors for many students, including nursing students, leading to uncertainty and anxiety. There is limited evidence available to identify the mental health impact of COVID-19 on Australian pre-registration nursing students currently. Design: A cross-sectional study was conducted across 12 Australian universities. Methods: Using an anonymous, online survey students provided demographic data and self-reported their stress, anxiety, resilience, coping strategies, mental health and exposure to COVID-19. Students' stress, anxiety, resilience, coping strategies and mental health were assessed using the Impact of Event Scale-Revised, the Coronavirus Anxiety Scale, the Brief Resilience Scale, the Brief Cope and the DASS-21. Descriptive and regression analyses were conducted to investigate whether stress, anxiety, resilience and coping strategies explained variance in mental health impact. Ethical Approval was obtained from the University of New England Human Research Ethics Committee (No: HE20-188). All participating universities obtained reciprocal approval. Results: Of the 516 students who completed the survey over half (n = 300, 58.1 %) reported mental health concerns and most students (n = 469, 90.9 %) reported being impacted by COVID-19. Close to half of students (n = 255, 49.4 %) reported signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health impact was influenced by students' year level and history of mental health issues, where a history of mental health and a higher year level were both associated with greater mental health impacts. Students experienced considerable disruption to their learning due to COVID-19 restrictions which exacerbated students' distress and anxiety. Students coped with COVID-19 through focusing on their problems and using strategies to regulate their emotions and adapt to stressors. Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably impacted pre-registration nursing students' mental health. Strategies to support nursing students manage their mental health are vital to assist them through the ongoing pandemic and safeguard the recruitment and retention of the future nursing workforce. Impact statement: This study adds an Australian understanding to the international evidence that indicates student nurses experienced a range of negative psychosocial outcomes during COVID-19. In this study, we found that students with a pre-existing mental health issue and final-year students were most affected. The changes to education in Australian universities related to COVID-19 has caused distress for many nursing students. Australian nursing academics/educators and health service staff need to take heed of these results as these students prepare for entry into the nursing workforce. Patient or public involvement: The study was designed to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of undergraduate nursing students in Australia. Educators from several universities were involved in the design and conduct of the study. However, the study did not include input from the public or the intended participants.