Emotional toll of COVID-19 on health workers is vast, varied

www.cidrap.umn.edu
5 min read
fairly difficult
The researchers call some types of emotional distress experienced by healthcare workers "moral injury."
Two studies today in JAMA Network Open describe the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers (HCWs), one showing that US HCWs experienced a range of negative emotions as the pandemic progressed, and the other concluding that mental distress eased 14 months into the pandemic in Italian clinicians.

Pandemic 'has shaken my faith in medicine'

In the US study, a team led by Duke University researchers surveyed 1,344 HCWs in 2020 about their emotional state before the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. They recruited HCWs via email and social media from Apr 24 to May 30 (phase 1) and Oct 24 to Nov 30 (phase 2).

In phase 1 involved 335 survey respondents of whom 32.6% were 35 to 44 years old, 86% were women, and 87.8% were White. Phase 2 included 1,009 participants, of whom 38.1% were aged 35 to 44, 90.5% were women, and 93.7% were White. Respondents included nurses, physicians, advanced practice practitioners, and chaplains.

The HCWs reported emotions related to changes in family, social life, and occupational function. They expressed fear of contracting COVID-19 and spreading the infection to family and friends, stigmatization, short-staffing, and inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

HCWs also said they experienced fear in phase 1, progressing to fatigue in phase 2, as well as isolation, alienation, and betrayal by coworkers, management, the healthcare system, and the community. Said one respondent, "My levels of fear have decreased, just because they weren't sustainable."

In open-ended responses, participants said that witnessing patients die alone owing to isolation measures was "heartbreaking" and also "has also shaken my faith in medicine, it makes me feel vulnerable and scared … there isn't much modern medicine can do to help."

HCWs also indicating a growing distrust and fear of…
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