Health care workers in the United States are struggling with a multitude of health care challenges during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and are at greater risk than the general public of experiencing health concerns such as depression, according to a new study by researchers at North Carolina State University.

“What we learned suggests that anyone who identifies as a health care 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 co-author Shevaun Neupert, PhD, in a statement.

Investigators conducted an online survey of 90 people who identified as health care workers. Most respondents were physicians, nurses, and medical technicians, whereas others held roles such as hospital administrators. The researchers also surveyed a control group of 90 people who did not work in health care, but who matched the age and sex of the health care workers. The survey included demographic questions as well as questions about various aspects of mental health and well-being.

The team found that health care workers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and tiredness, as well as lower feelings of control over their lives. Perhaps most notably, the researchers found that, on average, health care professionals reported enough symptoms of depression to be diagnosed with clinical depression. In the press release, Neupert said health care workers’ depressive symptoms scored approximately 30% higher than the depressive symptoms score for the control group.

The investigators also found that health care workers were less likely to engage in proactive coping, meaning they were doing less to prepare themselves for future stressors or adverse events.

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

REFERENCE
Study Highlights Mental Health Risks Facing Healthcare Workers During Pandemic [news release]. North Carolina State University; July 30, 2020. https://news.ncsu.edu/2020/07/mental-health-risks-facing-healthcare-workers/. Accessed August 5, 2020.