Even though health workers know the extreme risk of COVID-19, they work tirelessly to treat patients at hospitals. But despite their brave faces, they are suffering from the emotional toll caused by this pandemic. According to a recent study, medical frontliners are enduring emotional trauma just to save lives.
The extent of emotional trauma experienced by medical frontliners was unveiled by researchers in China. They found that a substantial proportion of health workers reported symptoms of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Moreover, the severity of these symptoms has been determined greater among women, nurses, and those in severely hit territories. Their findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The Emotional Impact of COVID-19 Among Medical Frontliners
The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, the global economy, and the mental and emotional well-being of individuals worldwide. Because the enemy attacks human health and is invisible to the naked eye, the only ones that save humanity are health workers. Without them, social collapse and mountains of corpses are the inevitable outcomes.
Unfortunately, the efforts of medical frontliners are taken for granted by some people. Many health workers are being discriminated against due to their line of work. Many think that nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals will bring the virus into communities. In rare cases, some of these professionals have been attacked by citizens. But the majority of the world's populations have no idea what medical workers are going through each minute that they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and handle COVID-19 patients.
A team of researchers from Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Wuhan University, Wuhan Youfu Hospital, Jingmen No. 2 People's Hospital, and Wuhan Wudong Hospital investigated the non-physical toll experienced by health workers. They determined that several had to endure mental health symptoms to treat patients and save lives. Although the study was focused on Chinese healthcare workers, the same findings might be applicable to other nations, particularly those with hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases.
In the study, researchers conducted a survey from January 29, 2020 to February 3, 2020, when COVID-19 cases in China were over 10,000. A total of 34 hospitals were covered by their survey, which comprised of 20 hospitals in Wuhan, 7 hospitals in other regions in the Hubei province, and 7 hospitals in other provinces. A total of 1,830 individuals were contacted to complete the survey but only 1,257 reported to participate throughout the study's duration. That resulted in a participation rate of 68.7%, with 964 or 76.7% of participants being women and 813 or 64.7% aged 26 to 40 years.
Mental health well-being was the focus of the research team. So, they utilized the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire, the 7-Item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale, the 7-Item Insomnia Severity Index, and the 22-Item Impact of Event Scale-Revised to identify symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and distress among participants.
The occupations of participants were unveiled as well in the study. Out of 1,257 participants, 764 or 60.8% were nurses and 493 or 39.2% were doctors. A total of 522 or 41.5% of them were frontline healthcare workers. Results from the survey showed that a significant number of participants expressed mental health distress due to COVID-19. About 50.4% reported signs of depression, 44.6% reported symptoms of anxiety, 34% reported insomnia, and 71.5% reported distress. When the prevalence of mental health symptoms was compared among participants, the comparison showed that the severity of those symptoms was more common among women, nurses, frontline medical workers, and workers in Wuhan, while those working outside Wuhan had a lower risk of distress than those in Wuhan.
Researchers concluded that medical professionals directly engaged in caring for COVID-19 patients are highly prone to emotional and psychological burden. Although it was not mentioned by the team, the findings showed that health workers in cities severely bombarded by the disease were likely to experience mental health symptoms, compared to workers in less-hit cities.
"These findings underscore that protecting health care workers is vital in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Jamie D. Aten, Founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, as quoted by Psychology Today, a US-based magazine.
The Infection Cases in Health Workers
Due to the risk of their occupation, medical workers can be exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The exposure can be correlated to the shortages of PPEs, lack of sufficient rest, and deficiency in special interventions. The result of those factors has been the rising infection cases among these professionals. In the 82nd Situation Report of the World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, several confirmed cases of COVID-19 among medical workers were reported in various countries.
As of April 8, 2020, a total of 22,073 confirmed cases were reported among health workers in 52 countries. But that number was inaccurate because no systematic reporting for COVID-19 in medical professionals was available at the time. As such, the agency could not say the true numbers of health workers who got sick from the novel coronavirus.
However, some published studies were able to provide figures to show the challenges faced by medical professionals. In the publication of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 were 44,672 as of February 17, 2020. Out of that, 1,688 cases were medical workers, which represented 3.8% of all cases. In Italy, a report from April 10, 2020 confirmed 15,314 cases of medical workers infected with COVID-19. That represented 11% of all cases in Italy at the time.
Every time a medical worker becomes sick of COVID-19, they are at risk of health complications and premature death. They are also subject to the same quarantine and isolation measures applied to other COVID-19 patients, meaning they cannot say goodbye to their loved ones in person in case their health deteriorates. But if they survive, that same medical worker has to take another 14-day quarantine period to confirm their road to recovery. For hospitals, a total of 14 days for a missing health worker is significant in manpower and patient care. The more health workers are infected, the more likely a hospital will decline COVID-19 patients.
Special interventions and protection are what medical professionals need in this pandemic. They require interventions to alleviate stress, protection keep violence away from them, and more PPEs to shield themselves from the virus.