Majority of front-line health care workers say COVID-19 stress affected mental health: poll

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The coronavirus pandemic is taking a serious toll on the mental health of front-line health care workers, a new national poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post found.

The survey asked about the experiences and attitudes of health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

About 3 in 10 front-line health care workers said they received mental health services or thought they needed them directly as a result of the pandemic.

A full 62 percent said that worry and stress related to the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health.

Nearly half of all health care workers said worry or stress has caused them to have trouble sleeping or to sleep too much. About 30 percent reported frequent headaches or stomachaches, and some reported increased alcohol or drug use.

The findings from the survey of more than 1,300 health workers, more than a year into the pandemic, gives a glimpse into just how challenging the lives of front-line workers have been. The people surveyed work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, outpatient clinics, nursing homes and assisted care facilities, as well as home health care.

The analysis also found that those front-line workers may experience some longer-term impacts even after the pandemic is over.

The survey found that the youngest health care workers (18-29 years old) seem to have been hit hardest. Three-fourths of younger front-line health care workers reported worry or stress related to COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health, and 7 in 10 said they felt “burned out” about work.

Overall, 55 percent of all workers said they felt “burned out” or “anxious.” 

Hospitals and nursing homes were some of the hardest hit by the virus as workers ran out of personal protective equipment (PPE) and many intensive care units (ICUs) were overrun. 

One in six front-line health care workers said they tested positive for COVID-19. One-quarter of front-line health care workers working in nursing homes or assisted care facilities say they tested positive for COVID-19, compared to less than 1 in 5 working in hospitals, doctor’s offices or clinics, or providing in-home care.

According to the survey, more than half of hospital workers said their workplace ICUs reached overcapacity, and a third of health care workers working in either hospitals or nursing homes say that at some point during the pandemic, their workplace ran out of PPE for its employees.

When asked to describe the hardest part of working during the pandemic, the top issue — among 21 percent of workers — was a worry about getting sick from the virus, or exposing their family members.

Still, the survey found most workers have begun feeling optimistic about the future and are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines continue to roll out. 

The survey found 76 percent of respondents said they felt “hopeful” when going to work now. Majorities also said they felt “optimistic” and motivated.

The margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points.

Tags Caregiver stress Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccines frontline health workers Mental health

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