ALEXANDRIA, VA – As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation at a record-breaking speed and hospitals become overwhelmed, the pandemic is taking a dangerous toll on the mental health of frontline healthcare workers, according to a new survey conducted by Mental Health America (MHA) with funding from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
“Health care workers have been thrust onto the front lines, exposed to a deadly virus daily,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “With the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases, it is getting worse by the day and healthcare workers aren’t getting a reprieve. They are frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, burned out and worried about exposing their loved ones, nurses in particular. We need to make sure that we are taking care of healthcare workers so they can take care of us.”
The study showed that healthcare workers are:
- Stressed out and anxious: 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
- Worried about exposing loved ones: 76% of healthcare workers reported that they were worried about exposing their child to COVID-19, nearly half were worried about exposing their spouse or partner and 47% were worried about exposing their older adult family member(s).
- Emotionally and physically exhausted: Emotional exhaustion was the most common answer for how healthcare workers were feeling (82%), followed by trouble with sleep (70%), physical exhaustion (68%) and work-related dread (63%). Over half selected change in appetite (57%), physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches (56%), questioning their career path (55%), compassion fatigue (52%) and heightened awareness or attention to being exposed to COVID-19 (52%). Nurses reported having a higher exposure to COVID-19 (41%) and they were more likely to feel too tired (67%) compared to other healthcare workers (61%).
- Not getting enough emotional support: 39% of healthcare workers said that they did not feel like they had adequate emotional support. Nurses were even less likely to have emotional support (45%).
- Struggling with parenting: Among people with children, half reported they are lacking quality time or are unable to support children or be a present parent.
MHA says stress if left untreated can lead to more severe mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and even thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or Stage 4. MHA says that the best way to avoid a mental health crisis – referred to as “Before Stage 4”– is to prevent it altogether. To do this, MHA says it is critical to identify signs of anxiety and depression early on and intervene quickly.
MHA teamed up with the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation to listen to the needs of healthcare workers and developed a library of resources for healthcare workers which can be accessed at MHAnational.org/frontline. The library includes webinars, resources for getting sleep, coping with fear, finding emotional support, dealing with burnout and overwhelm, and coping with contracting COVID-19.
“Most healthcare workers fully understand the stress of working in a high-risk environment,” said Russell C. Petrella, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and MHA Board member. “However, the pandemic has presented new and overwhelming challenges on a daily basis. Given the relentless pressures on these professionals, it is not surprising that some burnout occurs. Every hospital and healthcare system treating COVID-19 patients needs to have supports and mental health resources readily available for healthcare workers to access.”
Across the board, MHA has seen alarming increases in reports of depression and anxiety nationwide. A report released in October 2020 showed that more than 1.5 million people who took a screening at MHAscreening.org reported signs of anxiety and/or depression, with Sept. reporting the highest rate of severity since the start of the pandemic. Anxiety screenings were up by 634% from January and depression screenings were up 873%.
“We collectively see glimmers of hope on the horizon with a vaccine and more effective treatments for COVID-19,” said Gionfriddo. “But right now, we need to focus on supporting our healthcare workers in getting through this new wave of infections so that they can see to the other side. Even when a vaccine is created, many healthcare workers may experience PTSD, which we also need to pay attention to.”
If you are a healthcare worker and believe you are experiencing anxiety or depression, go to mhanational.org/frontline to be screened and find resources and support. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, text MHA to 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. Go to MHAnational.org to learn more.
Read the full survey results here.