The mental health impact of pandemics
New research from a UK university has focused on the mental wellbeing of front-line healthcare staff during a global pandemic
The research, from the University of East Anglia, has found that mental health problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression are common among healthcare staff during and immediately after pandemics.
Where, what, when?
Researchers investigated how treating patients in past pandemics such as SARS and MERS affected the mental health of front-line staff.
They found that almost a quarter of health-care workers (23.4 per cent) experienced PTSD symptoms during the most intense ‘acute’ phase of previous pandemic outbreaks – with 11.9 per cent of carers still experiencing symptoms a year on.
They also looked at data about elevated levels of mental distress and found that more than a third of health workers (34.1 per cent) experienced symptoms such as anxiety or depression during the acute phase, dropping to 17.9 per cent after six months. This figure however increased again to 29.3 per cent after 12 months or longer.
Insights to learn from
The team hope that their work will help highlight the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic could be having on the mental health of doctors and nurses around the world. Prof Richard Meiser-Stedman, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that Covid-19 poses unprecedented challenges to the NHS and to healthcare staff worldwide. Nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and all support staff based in hospitals where patients with Covid-19 are treated are facing considerable pressure, over a sustained period. In addition to the challenge of treating a large volume of severely unwell patients, front-line staff also have to contend with threats to their own physical health through infection, particularly as they have had to face shortages of essential personal protective equipment.
“The media has reported that healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients will face a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems as a result of their work. We wanted to examine this by looking closely at the existing data from previous pandemics to better understand the potential impact of Covid-19.
We estimated the prevalence of common mental health disorders in healthcare workers based in pandemic-affected hospitals. And we hope our work will help inform hospital managers of the level of resources required to support staff through these difficult times.”
Everyone who has lived through the Covid-19 pandemic has felt the mental toll it has taken, as this research from Allianz Partners showed.