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Coronavirus: Study finds psychological burden in frontline medical workers


The study looked at responses of healthcare workers in China during the coronavirus pandemic.

coronavirus, COVID-19, burnout, psychological burden

Frontline medical workers dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus are experiencing psychological burden, according to a new study.

The study looked at responses on a battery of mental health measurements from 1,257 healthcare workers in 34 Chinese hospitals with fever clinics or wards for patients suffering from the virus from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3. Of the respondents, 64.7 percent are between the ages of 26 and 40, 76.7 percent are women, 60.8 percent are nurses and 39.2 percent were physicians. An additional 60.5 percent worked at hospitals in Wuhan, the region where the outbreak began, and 41.5 percent are frontline healthcare workers.

Of the respondents, a large portion reported suffering from various psychological burden. This includes:

·      Depression 50.4 percent

·      Anxiety 44.6 percent

·      Insomnia 34 percent

The psychological burden most reported by the respondents was distress with 71.5 percent.

Nurses, women, frontline healthcare workers, and those working in Wuhan reported more severe measurement of mental health symptoms than other groups included in the study. Being a woman with an intermediate professional title was associated with severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and distress, the study found.

It is worth noting though, the majority of respondents being women may have skewed this result.

The study also showed that working on the frontline of the pandemic was an independent risk factor across all cohorts.

The results of the study may bring insights into the effects the pandemic can have on healthcare providers the world over. A study of U.S. physicians produced last week showed that 96 percent of physician respondents said they were some level of concerned about the virus having an impact on themselves or their patients directly.

Details of the mental toll and U.S. physician attitudes are still murky though as the Chinese survey was conducted before recent declines in positive tests for the virus and the U.S. survey was performed before the pandemic had fully taken hold of the country.

The authors of the Chinese study in the report that special care should be taken to protect the mental health of those working with the infected.

“Special interventions to promote mental well-being in health care workers exposed to COVID-19 need to be immediately implemented, with women, nurses, and frontline workers requiring particular attention,” the report says.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health