Mental Health Symptoms in health workers during the first peak if COVID-19

9 Feb 2021 Anne Marie Fogarty

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mental health healthcare workers

A study 1 published late in 2020, by Cambridge University Press explored the Mental health symptoms in a group of hospital workers after the first peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. The key findings are illustrated in this article.


By September 2020, the coronavirus infection had claimed the lives of over 850 000 people worldwide. The pandemic has caused the limits of healthcare systems to stretch beyond capacity. A rapid increase in workload, sudden changes in roles and responsibilities including critical decision-making, witnessing a higher than usual number of deaths, and contracting the virus are some of the stressors the healthcare workers (HCW) were exposed to.

The study

Between March and May 2020, the first peak of the pandemic in the UK occurred.

The UK had recorded the fifth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 worldwide in August 2020. The implementation of several staff well-being programmes and the allocation of over £5 million for mental health research have been implemented to address the pandemic’s mental health sequelae. After the COVID-19 pandemic peak, the study aimed to describe the rates of clinically significant symptoms of anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and associated occupational exposures, health, and sociodemographic characteristics in a cohort of hospital-based hospital Health Care Workers (HCW) from the UK.

Two thousand, six hundred and thirty-eight participants enrolled in the study completing a survey between June 5, 2020, and July 31, 2020, within the West Midlands, UK. This region observed a high incidence of COVID-19 cases and a high mortality rate.

The survey included:

  • Sociodemographic factors
  • Current health status
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Employment factors1

Influencing factors

There has been a significant decrease in the usual sources of available social support because of changes in work schedules and social isolation measures for many hospital HCW. A considerable increase has been noticed in healthcare workers’ mental health disorders due to the coronavirus pandemic. The rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in a population of hospital HCW in the UK have been evaluated in the study.


Following the UK’s initial pandemic peak, higher rates of clinically significant mental health symptoms among hospital HCW were reported. Symptoms of mental health conditions were frequent among hospital HCW during and after the pandemic’s peak in each country. At most risk were those with a history of mental health conditions. Following the 2003 SARS outbreak, there were similar reports of increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among HCW

At work, significant negative associations with mental health disorders were demonstrated by the availability of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), well-being support, and lower exposure to moral dilemmas.

Study implications for the future

 The study implications include that hospital HCW may be safeguarded from mental health symptoms by:

  1. adequate PPE availability
  2. access to well-being support
  3. reduced exposure to moral dilemmas.

Perhaps also workforce planning and protection for staff most at risk such as those with an existing mental health condition might help.

The research concludes- special consideration and additional support in the workplace could also be considered for younger employees, redeployed staff members and those working in potentially high-risk areas (such as in-patient wards, emergency departments and ITUs).1



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