Healthcare Workers Face Greater Risks of Depression During the Pandemic

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Healthcare workers in the United States are struggling with a suite of mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and facing a greater risk of experiencing health problems such as depression than the general public, according to a multi-school team of researchers.

On average, the researchers said, healthcare professionals reported enough symptoms of depression to be diagnosed with clinical depression.

“Our goal was to better understand the impact that COVID-19 was having on the mental well-being of healthcare workers,” said Ann Pearman, MA, PhD, corresponding author and a senior research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Psychology.

“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,” said coauthor Shevaun Neupert, PhD, professor with the North Carolina State University Department of Psychology.

“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,” said Neuport.

The researchers conducted an online survey of 90 people who identified as healthcare workers. While most were physicians, nurses, and medical technicians, some held roles such as hospital administrators.

Also, the researchers surveyed a control group of 90 people who did not work in healthcare but who matched the age and sex of the healthcare workers. The study ran from March 20 through May 14. Study participants came from 35 states.

The survey included demographic questions as well as questions aimed at capturing various aspects of mental health and well-being. The healthcare workers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and tiredness, as well as lower feelings of control over their lives.

“We also found that the healthcare group averaged a depressive symptoms score that would qualify as clinical depression,” said Neupert.

“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,” Neupert said.

The researchers also found that the healthcare workers were less likely to engage in “proactive coping,” meaning they were doing less to prepare themselves for future stresses or adverse events.

“Our findings suggest that healthcare workers are at much higher risk right now of negative outcomes, such as depression,” said Neupert. “That’s not sustainable, and we need to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

The study, “Mental Health Challenges of US Healthcare Professionals During COVID-19,” was published by Frontiers in Psychology/Psychology for Clinical Settings.

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