The Mental Well-being of Healthcare Workers is Deteriorating, but How Do They Stay Positive?
Thu, April 22, 2021

The Mental Well-being of Healthcare Workers is Deteriorating, but How Do They Stay Positive?


Healthcare workers experience immense pressure as they continue to treat people infected with COVID-19 while facing shortages of gloves, masks, and other protective equipment, explained Carter Barrett of WFYI, Indianapolis’ public radio and TV and news station. These professionals work long hours, making them more at risk of contracting the virus. Pandemic is akin to war, with nurses and doctors deployed on the frontlines to fight against an “invisible enemy,” as named by some political figures.

Emily Sego, a chief nurse executive at a large hospital group in Indianapolis who oversees over 1,000 nurses, said, “I hear nurses every day, they describe it as a war zone.”  Some hospitals struggle to staff overnight shifts and the COVID-10 outbreak further stretches short-staffed hospitals. Hence, some nurses are working 60 or 70 hour weeks while dealing with shortages of healthcare professionals.  

Katie Feley, CEO of the Indiana State Nurses Association, stated, “A lot of nurses are, honestly, when they leave for their shift they're packing their bags expecting to stay for two to three days at a time at the hospital.”

What Are the Factors Associated With Health Care Workers’ Mental Health? (2020)

Jianbo Lai, MSC, and colleagues of JAMA Network, a peer-reviewed open journal, conducted a cross-sectional, hospital-based survey from January 29, 2020, to February 3, 2020. A total of 20 hospitals in Wuhan, seven hospitals in other regions of Hubei province, and seven hospitals from seven other provinces with a high incidence of COVID-19 were involved in the study.

Among 1,830 health care workers, consisting of 702 physicians (38.4%) and 1,128 (61.6%) nurses, 1,257 (68.7%) respondents answered the survey. Of the respondents, 760 (60.5%) worked in Wuhan, 261 (20.8%) worked in Hubei province outside Wuhan, and 236 (18.8%) worked outside Hubei province. 634 or 50.4% of participants showed symptoms of depression and 560 or 44.6 of them had signs of anxiety. Other factors included were insomnia (427, 34%) and distress (899, 71,5%). Nurses, women, frontline workers, and those in Wuhan said they experienced more severe symptom levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.

For example, severe depression among physicians and nurses were 4.9% and 7.1%, respectively. Moreover, women (5.8%) experienced more severe symptoms of anxiety than men (3.4%). Frontline workers (1.7%) reported more severe symptoms of severe insomnia than second-line workers  (0.4%).

12.6% of workers in Wuhan reported severe distress compared to those working in Hubei province outside of Wuhan (7.2%) and outside Hubei province (7.2%). Respondents working in secondary hospitals reported severe symptoms of depression (7.7% versus 5.6% those working in tertiary hospitals), anxiety (5.5% versus 5.1%), and distress (11.7% versus 10%). Respondents working in secondary hospitals reported less severe symptoms of insomnia (0.6% versus 1.0%).

The authors concluded that health care workers responding to the spread of the coronavirus reported high incidences of symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. Protecting them is an important aspect of public health measures for curbing the coronavirus outbreak. Special interventions to foster mental health need to be implemented right away, with women, frontline workers, and nurses requiring particular attention.



Healthcare Workers Are Seeing Burnout and Other Mental Health Issues

Sego is experiencing burnout; nurses are asking themselves if they want to stay in the profession. Chances are, the deterioration of mental well-being among healthcare workers will continue for weeks, months, or longer. Dr. Neda Gould, a clinical psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, noted that each person is on fight-or-flight mode right now because they are “trying to keep themselves above water.”

Healthcare workers have also felt frustrated, vulnerable, and anxious about treating patients with COVID-19 without an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr. Shahdabul Faraz said on American news channel CNN. Some health workers used garbage bags as protective gowns. Without protective equipment, they are more at risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19, and many of their colleagues are dying.



The Deterioration of Mental Health

Most health care providers not involved in direct patient care are working remotely and many “essential” departments are operating at half-capacity. This is because the departments are keeping their backup workforce safe at home in case they need to replace workers infected with COVID-19.

Some healthcare workers stay in their basements or garages or even moved out to safeguard their loved ones from the virus. Even patients are facing mental health complications. For example, elderly people will have to undergo emergency surgeries without the support and care of their loved ones. It’s no surprise that more Americans surveyed from March 20 to 23 reported worsening mental health (35% worse versus 22% of those surveyed from March 13-16)  and emotional well-being (43% versus 29%), according to Ipsos, the world’s largest market research company, cited Dr. Faraz.



What Healthcare Workers Are Doing to Safeguard Their Mental Health

All hope is not lost. For example, a New Jersey man held a sign thanking healthcare workers for saving his wife’s life during the outbreak. One even wrote “Just keep swimming” and “Thank you for what you do” along the sidewalks of the hospital Dr. Faraz is working at. For professionals, small gestures like these are powerful as they serve as a reminder of why they need to go to work each day despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some healthcare providers do TikTok challenges to keep their spirits up, reported Karina Hernandez of Make It CNBC, a news site dedicated to publishing articles on getting smarter about how individuals can earn, save, and spend money. For example, the “Oh na na” food-dance, which is one of the popular challenges on TikTok, has become a new greeting for some medical professionals at hospitals. One Instagram user assured, “no hands were touched in the making of this video.”

Others hold contests to ease mental health distress. For instance, Instagram account @lurieschildrensnurses has initiated a hand-washing contest to inspire its nurses. All nurses at Lurie Children’s are eligible to join and the most creative video will be posted on their official account.

Health workers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital can’t always adhere to social distancing, but they hope to take care of kids by making them smile and performing Disney classics, said @sarakaczkowsk, an Instagram user. Performing a rendition of “We’re all in this together” from “High School Musical” might be effective in lighting up their gloomy world.

Everyone is struggling to cope with the psychological impacts of the pandemic, with health providers struggling to keep their mental health in check and treating patients with COVID-19. Hence, healthcare professionals do TikTok challenges or hold contests to inject a dose of positivity into their lives.