Health Care Workers Dealing With Covid-19 Are At an Increased Risk for Cognitive Problems

At the University of Utah Health, researchers found that more than half of the healthcare workers dealing with Covid-19, including, doctors, nurses, and emergency responders could be at risk for one or more mental health problems, including acute traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use, and insomnia.

The study determined that the potential risk of these mental health problems was comparable to rates observed at the time of natural disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, with results published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

During typical non-crisis times, emergency personnel are at increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These risks potentially increase when emergency personnel respond to events that are extraordinarily stressful and traumatic. However, the healthcare professionals are possibly at increased risk of professional burnout, but generally are at lower risk for mental health disorders relative to emergency responders.

However, these unprecedented circumstances of Covid-19 have put the healthcare workers in an immense stress.

In the new study, researchers therefore evaluated the trend of cognitive problems reported in Covid-19 health care workers. The study suggests more than half of doctors, nurses, and emergency responders involved in COVID-19 care could be at increased risk for one or more mental health problems, including acute traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use, and insomnia.

Study recruited up to 571 health care workers, including 473 emergency responders like firefighters, police, EMTs; and at least 98 hospital staff, such as, doctors and nurses, in the Mountain West between April 1 and May 7, 2020.

It was found that among those 473 emergency responders, overall, 56% of the respondents screened positive for at least one mental health disorder. Moreover, the prevalence for each specific disorder recorded ranged from 15% to 30% of the respondents, with problematic alcohol use, insomnia, and depression topping the list.

“Frontline providers are exhausted, not only from the impact of the pandemic itself, but also in terms of coping day to day,” says Charles C. Benight, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

He continued to talk about the potential reasons that may have exhausted them. He said that, “They’re trying to make sure that their families are safe [and] they’re frustrated over not having the pandemic under control. Those things create the sort of burnout, trauma, and stress that lead to the mental health challenges we’re seeing among these caregivers.”

Particularly, scientists found that health care workers who were exposed to the virus or who were at more risk of infection because they were immune-compromised had a significantly increased risk of acute traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. It was therefore suggested that the identification of these individuals and intervening new alternatives could reduce the potential risk of anxiety, fear, and the sense of helplessness associated with becoming infected.

Researchers raised another concern of alcohol abuse, including 36% of health care workers reported risky alcohol usage, relative to the estimates suggesting less than 21% of physicians and 23% of emergency responders had alcohol abused in typical circumstances.

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