COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

January 15, 2021
2 min read

More than 50% of COVID-19 health care workers at risk for mental health problems

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More than half of health care workers involved in COVID-19 care may be at risk for one or more mental health problems, according to study results published in Journal of Psychiatric Research.

“What health care workers are experiencing is akin to domestic combat,” Andrew J. Smith, PhD, director of the University of Utah Health Occupational Trauma Program at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said in a press release. “Although the majority of health care professionals and emergency responders aren’t necessarily going to develop PTSD, they are working under severe duress, day after day, with a lot of unknowns. Some will be susceptible to a host of stress-related mental health consequences.

stressed doctor with head in hands
Source: Adobe Stock

“By studying both resilient and pathological trajectories, we can build a scaffold for constructing evidence-based interventions for both individuals and public health systems,” Smith added.

Smith and colleagues assesed risk for mental health problems, including traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, alcohol use and insomnia, linked to pandemic-related stressors among 571 emergency and hospital personnel. Participants completed self-report online surveys between April 1, 2020, and May 7, 2020, in the United States’ Rocky Mountain region.

The investigators found that approximately 15% to 30% of participants screened positive for each disorder assessed. Groups had similar risk for screening positive for probable acute traumatic stress, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder. Rates of insufficient sleep were significantly higher among emergency personnel vs. health care workers. According to logistic regressions, participants with an immunocompromised condition were at increased risk for acute traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. Those with an immunocompromised household member were at increased risk for insufficient sleep and anxiety. Moreover, those in a direct care provision role were at increased risk for screening positive for risky alcohol use and those in a management role over direct care providers were at increased risk for screening positive for anxiety, risky alcohol use and insufficient sleep. The investigators noted an inverse relationship between number of positive COVID-19 cases and anxiety; as positive cases increased, anxiety decreased.

According to Wright and colleagues, the mental health risks they observed early in the pandemic were “elevated above” prior viral outbreaks and comparable to rates in disasters such as the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“This pandemic, as horrific as it is, offers us the opportunity to better understand the extraordinary mental stress and strains that health care providers are dealing with right now,” Smith said. “With that understanding, perhaps we can develop ways to mitigate these problems and help health care workers and emergency responders better cope with these sorts of challenges in the future.”