Study Explores Psychological Harm to Health Workers During Outbreaks | Global Health | JAMA | JAMA Network
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Global Health
June 16, 2020

Study Explores Psychological Harm to Health Workers During Outbreaks

JAMA. 2020;323(23):2363. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.8822

Researchers in Australia have identified dozens of factors that can either increase or decrease clinicians’ risk of psychological harm during emerging disease outbreaks.

A recent study described circumstances that affect health workers’ risk of psychological harm during emerging disease outbreaks.

iStock.com/SonerCdem

The researchers’ meta-analysis included 59 studies from a dozen countries that assessed clinician well-being during outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H7N9), Ebola virus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Their analysis showed that clinicians who had direct contact with infected patients had a 71% increased risk of developing acute or posttraumatic stress compared with clinicians who had lower-risk exposures. Clinicians in the studies reported distress during outbreaks and afterward for up to 3 years.

Younger clinicians and those with dependent children or an infected family member were at increased risk of psychological harm. In addition, longer quarantines, lack of practical support, and stigma against hospital workers also posed harm. Protective factors included having more clinical experience, feeling adequately trained and supported, and having adequate breaks and time off. Being supplied with appropriate protective gear and having support from peers and family also decreased clinicians’ psychological risks.

According to the authors, health facilities can reduce risks by providing clear communications, infectious diseases training, and reduced patient density on the wards. Breaks with meals provided are helpful, too. Additional protective measures include providing alternative accommodations to reduce the risk of infecting family members, and access to video calls to keep in touch with family while living apart.

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