Health care workers have played an instrumental role in helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, being on the frontlines has made them more vulnerable to the emotional stress associated with a public health crisis. Being exposed to the virus regularly not only puts them at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19, but they also see more of the devastating consequences of the disease.
The Mental Health of Health Care Workers in COVID-19
From June to September 2020, Mental Health America (MHA) surveyed 1,119 health care workers. Their goal was to understand their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic to support their mental health better.
Health care workers were asked, “In the last three months, which of the following feelings have you been regularly experiencing. Check all that apply.”
- 93% of health care workers reported stress
- 86% reported experiencing anxiety
- Over 75% reported feeling frustrated, exhausted or burnout, or overwhelmed
The majority of respondents also reported feeling sad, unappreciated, angry, afraid, lonely, or powerless.
MHA also asked health care workers, “In the last three months, have you experienced an increase in any of the following? Check all that apply.”
- 82% checked emotional exhaustion
- 70% reported trouble with sleep, including difficulty falling and staying asleep
- 68% reported physical exhaustion
Most respondents also checked work-related dread, change in appetite, physical symptoms, questioning career path, compassion fatigue, and heightened awareness/worry/attention to being exposed.
What’s more, health care workers were also asked about their support system. Only 35% reported feeling they had adequate emotional support, while the rest were unsure or felt unsupported.
It’s disheartening to see so many health care workers struggling. They are the essential workers on the frontlines, and we should be supporting them as they take care of the rest of the world. Here is a deeper look into how health care workers are doing during the pandemic.
Common Pandemic-Related Stressors
MHA asked health care workers what their top three work-related stressors were. The majority were stressed because they felt uncertain about when things would settle down or return to normal. Most respondents also checked burnout. Having a heavy or increased workload and the fear of getting sick from COVID-19 was also high on the list.
The pandemic has caused many health care workers to work longer hours. Working longer hours under more stressful circumstances can lead to burnout, especially if they don’t take enough time for themselves.
Fear of Exposing the Disease to Someone Else
In addition to being worried about getting the virus, they are also concerned about infecting others. Understandably, most health care workers admitted that they were afraid of exposing someone they lived with to the virus. The majority being their children, while others were afraid of infecting a spouse or older family member.
Other pandemic-related stresses stem from personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. At the beginning of the pandemic, many medical professionals struggled to get the PPE equipment and medical supplies they needed to do their jobs safely. Although circumstances have improved, some are still working to acquire resources.
Challenges with Parenting
Children are another factor that can increase stress for healthcare workers. As mentioned, many health care workers are afraid of exposing their children to the virus. This can cause them to spend less time with their family. As a result, many survey respondents reported that they are struggling with parenting. Many feel that they are not spending enough quality time with their kids or aren’t able to be as present as they would like.
Understanding Mental Health Challenges During a Pandemic
These are just a few of the challenges health care workers have been experiencing during the pandemic. Each of these difficulties can affect a person’s mental health. By taking the time to understand why our health care workers are struggling, we can make changes to give them the support they need.