Lucy Letby, a 33-year-old former NICU nurse, is currently under trial for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill 10 others in Countess of Chester Hospital in north-west England between June 2015 to June 2016.
Beginning in October 2022, the trial will end after six months in May 2023. Evidence has so far shown that Letby felt incompetent and had thoughts of suicide. She has denied the murders, and her defense officially began on May 2.
Broadcasting live on BBC News this past week, Letby's case has shed light on some crucial nursing issues.
From a nursing perspective, there are some essential takeaways regarding imposter syndrome, determining fitness to practice, and advocating for proper support and training to support mental health and burnout.
Imposter Syndrome in Nursing
According to the BBC, the police found a note that Letby wrote that read, "I am evil. I did this.”
After questioning Letby regarding the note, she said, "I felt at the time that if I'd done something wrong, I must be such an evil, awful person... I'd somehow been incompetent and had done something wrong which had affected those babies.”
According to a study by the Journal of Clinical Nursing, about 35-75% of nurses experience a feeling of imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.
Imposter syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy, despite having the necessary skills and qualifications to do the job. As a nurse, it is normal to experience episodes of not being good enough and that we are frauds, but it's essential to take measures to tackle imposter syndrome.
Fitness to Practice and Coping with Mental Health
Letby informed the jury, "There were times I did not want to live. I thought I was killing myself.”
She informed the jury that after a death of a baby, "[the hospital] encouraged you to go back into a nursery [where a baby has died] as soon as possible... because you have to carry on," thus leaving her with no formal support to cope after the death of her patient.
She was later diagnosed with PTSD and was prescribed antidepressants.
A study on mental illness among Canadian nurses had the following findings:
- 36.4% of respondents screened positive for Major Depressive Disorder
- 23% screened positive for PTSD
- 26.1% screened positive for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- 1 in 3 nurses reported having suicidal thoughts (ideation) (33%)
Based on the case of Letby, and the prevalence of mental illness in the nursing profession, it is imperative that nurses learn mechanisms to cope with stressors and trauma in the workplace and advocate for the proper support and training to tackle burnout.