How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the mental health of those on the frontlines? Here’s a recap of key findings from a survey of healthcare professionals.
The Mental Health Impacts of a Pandemic: Recapping a Survey of Healthcare Workers
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting individuals all over the world in different ways. For some, the physical effects cause the most concern. For others, emotional and psychological impacts are causing the most distress.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic globally. This increase shouldn’t be a huge surprise, however, as similar trends were seen in earlier outbreaks like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola, according to a meta-analysis conducted by Kisely et. al.
But perhaps the biggest group of individuals whose mental health was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was made up of those on the frontlines: healthcare workers. And based on a recent survey conducted by Mental Health America, that very well may be the case.
Learning About Healthcare Workers’ Experiences
To learn more about healthcare workers’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mental Health America surveyed 1,119 healthcare workers between June and September 2020. The survey results could then be broken down into the following five categories, which each have their unique—and troubling—statistics.
Stress & Anxiety
Based on the survey, 93 percent of healthcare workers experienced stress during this time period, and 86 percent experienced anxiety.
In addition to that stress and anxiety, healthcare workers also experienced frustration (77 percent), exhaustion and burnout (76 percent), and feelings of being overwhelmed (75 percent).
Fear of Exposure
Fear of exposing loved ones was a common fear, especially among healthcare workers who directly cared for COVID-19 patients. In fact, 76 percent of responders reported they worried about exposing their child to COVID-19, close to 50 percent worried about exposing their spouse or partner, and 47 percent worried about exposing an older family member.
Physical & Emotional Exhaustion
When asked about how they were feeling compared to the previous three months, 82 percent of healthcare workers said they felt emotionally exhausted. Trouble with sleep was the second most common answer at 70 percent, followed by physical exhaustion at 68 percent, and work-related dread at 63 percent.
More than half of respondents also reported changes in appetite (57 percent), physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches (56 percent), questioning their career path (55 percent), compassion fatigue (52 percent), and heightened awareness of potential exposure to COVID-19 (52 percent).
These statistics were especially high among nurses, 67 percent of whom felt too tired compared to 63 percent of other healthcare workers who took part in this survey.
Lack of Emotional Support
39 percent admitted that they felt like they didn’t have adequate emotional support. Again, these statistics were especially high among nurses, who were even less likely to have emotional support (45 percent).
Among respondents with children, 50 percent said they lacked quality time with their family and were unable to support their children and be a present parent.
Where We Go from Here
Findings from this survey are sobering and underscore the importance of ensuring that mental health services are available to all who need them during this time of crisis—to both patients and healthcare workers alike.
Hannemann Id, Julian, Alan Abdalrahman, Yesim Erim, Eva Morawa, Lucia Jerg-Bretzke, Petra Beschoner, Franziska Geiser, et al. 2022. “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of Medical Staff Considering the Interplay of Pandemic Burden and Psychosocial Resources—A Rapid Systematic Review.” PLOS ONE 17 (2): e0264290. https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0264290.
Kock, Johannes H. de, Helen Ann Latham, Stephen J. Leslie, Mark Grindle, Sarah Anne Munoz, Liz Ellis, Rob Polson, and Christopher M. O’Malley. 2021. “A Rapid Review of the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Healthcare Workers: Implications for Supporting Psychological Well-Being.” BMC Public Health 21 (1): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1186/S12889-020-10070-3/TABLES/4.
“Managing Mental Health during COVID-19.” 2021. American Medical Association. March 29, 2021. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/managing-mental-health-during-covid-19.
Søvold, Lene E., John A. Naslund, Antonis A. Kousoulis, Shekhar Saxena, M. Walid Qoronfleh, Christoffel Grobler, and Lars Münter. 2021. “Prioritizing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Healthcare Workers: An Urgent Global Public Health Priority.” Frontiers in Public Health 9 (May): 514. https://doi.org/10.3389/FPUBH.2021.679397/BIBTEX.
“The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19.” n.d. Mental Health America. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://mhanational.org/mental-health-healthcare-workers-covid-19.
Kisely S, Warren N, McMahon L, Dalais C, Henry I, Siskind D et al. 2020. “Occurrence, prevention, and management of the psychological effects of emerging virus outbreaks on healthcare workers: rapid review and meta-analysis.” BMJ 2020; 369:m1642. doi:10.1136/bmj.m1642.