Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues have been on the rise during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Now a new study highlights the risks and challenges to mental health faced by doctors, nurses and healthcare workers during this challenging time.
Even before the pandemic started, many people struggled with mental health issues. But the isolation, fear, financial stress, family stress and confusion wrought by the pandemic has exacerbated those problems in ways we may not even know until well after it ends.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has also had a profound mental health impact on the very people we need most in times like this. A new study has revealed that many healthcare workers are suffering as a result of the heightened mental and emotional stress of being on the front lines of this struggle.
The study found that our healthcare workers are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety than those of us in the general public. One shocking revelation was the fact that the average healthcare worker involved with COVID-19 treatment and patient care exhibit enough symptoms of depression to be diagnosed with clinical depression.
From the co-author, Ann Pearman, corresponding author of the study and a senior research scientist in the School of Psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology: “Our goal was to better understand the impact that COVID-19 was having on the mental well-being of healthcare workers.”
“What we learned suggests that anyone who identifies as a healthcare professional — whether it’s a physician or a support worker in a hospital — is at risk for mental-health problems that could be devastating if left untreated,” says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-author of the paper.
“These findings are alarming, and we need additional work to better capture the scope of this problem. What’s more, we need to be thinking about how we can help our healthcare workers.”
You would expect the study group to contain doctors, nurses and medical technicians. But even hospital administrators were feeling the stress and not faring so well. 90 people who identified as healthcare workers participated in the online survey.
The study ran from March 20 through May 14 and included participants from 35 states. A control group of 90 non-healthcare workers with matching age and sex demographics was also used.
The survey had questions which were aimed at detailing a variety of the elements of mental health and well-being. It also included questions designed to narrow down demographic information.
Across the board, the healthcare workers reported higher levels of fatigue, anxiety and stress, along with reduced feelings of having control over their lives.
“We also found that the healthcare group averaged a depressive symptoms score that would qualify as clinical depression,” Neupert says. “It was approximately 30% higher than the depressive symptoms score for the control group. You don’t expect to see an entire workforce score like that on a depression diagnostic tool.”
The study team also discovered that the healthcare workers did less to prepare themselves for future adverse events and stresses. This is referred to as “proactive coping.”
“Our findings suggest that healthcare workers are at much higher risk right now of negative outcomes, such as depression,” Neupert says. “That’s not sustainable, and we need to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”
Given the fact that these are the very people we need to be at their best when a medical emergency hits, helping them deal with the stress of being on the front lines of something like a pandemic is just a good idea. It may even make for good policy.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – Ann Pearman, MacKenzie L. Hughes, Emily L. Smith, Shevaun Neupert. Mental health challenges of U.S. healthcare professionals during COVID-19. Frontiers in Psychology | Psychology for Clinical Settings, 2020 (accepted); DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02065