According to new studies, nurses and female health care staff are most at risk of experiencing psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research, conducted by the University of Sheffield in the UK, is the largest global analysis of health care workers’ distress factors during an outbreak of infectious disease, including COVID-19, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, and Ebola.
In more than 143,000 health care workers from all over the world, researchers evaluated fixed factors such as demographic characteristics, age, sex and occupation as well as social psychological and infection-related factors. Between 2000 and November 2020, the study of 139 studies included data collected.
“Consistent evidence shows that being a woman, a nurse, experiencing stigma and having contact or risk of contact with infected patients were the biggest risk factors among health care workers for psychological distress,” said Dr Fuschia Sirois, University Reader of Social and Health Psychology and lead author of the report.
By reviewing data from previous outbreaks of infectious diseases such as SARS, bird flu and swine flu, it appears that distress for health care workers can persist for up to three years after the initial outbreak.
“It is so important that we identify the health care workers who are most at risk for distress and the variables that can be modified to reduce distress and improve resilience as the world continues to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sirois said.
Living with a partner, children caused increased stress for many
The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, have identified a new paradigm that can be used by health care providers to classify those most at risk of increased distress, as well as areas to be addressed to help create resilience. This structure will help to direct early interventions and continuous monitoring.
Less psychological distress was correlated with personal and organizational social support, feeling in charge, adequate knowledge about the outbreak and appropriate security, training and services.
“It was interesting to see that factors such as age didn’t appear to have a significant impact – even during COVID-19. In some studies, older people weren’t distressed – perhaps because they had worked as health care professionals for many years and therefore felt more equipped in dealing with an outbreak, whereas younger people who are physically less likely to be affected by the infectious disease tended to be less experienced in dealing with an outbreak professionally, therefore causing them to be more distressed,” Sirois said.
People were often influenced differently by social aspects – individuals undoubtedly benefited from providing a network of social support. Living with a partner or children, however, caused increased stress for those who were afraid of the infection moving on.
Dr Sirois and a team from the University of Sheffield and the NHS Trust of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals are now undertaking a further analysis using this new paradigm with National Health Service (NHS) staff to help identify factors that may help mitigate anxiety during COVID-19.
The University of Sheffield Department of Psychology is focused on investigating the research behind the human brain and human behaviour.
A broad variety of topics are covered by researchers, ranging from the intricacies of neural networks and brain activity to the developmental, biological and social processes that form who we are, to growing our knowledge of and how we can manage physical and mental health problems.
To understand human nature, thoughtful engagement, and health concerns, researchers apply a variety of research methods and use a number of specialist research facilities.