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Medicina clínica y social

versión On-line ISSN 2521-2281

Med. clín. soc. vol.4 no.3 Santa Rosa del Aguaray dic. 2020 


The mental health of healthcare workers and the COVID-19 pandemic

1Universidad Nacional de Asunción, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas, Cátedra de Psiquiatría, San Lorenzo, Paraguay.

Approximately six months have passed since the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the current century. The pandemic is changing the way individuals and groups, from families to entire nations, organize their daily activities and lives, and projections about the consequences it will have on human activity are still unknown. One of the areas of greatest impact has been health services around the world, from private to public sectors, which are dealing with a virus that is still widely misunderstood and facing the general lack of resources to provide an adequate level of care to patients with or without COVID-19.

This pandemic represents an unprecedented public health crisis for its global impact and the way our world is interconnected these days1. In the case of physicians and other health professionals, while the rest of the population practices social distancing, they have to come face to face with the virus2. This results in different levels of psychological stress, which can generate dysphoric emotional states, irritability, physical and mental fatigue, and despair3.

In a study carried out in Spain4, healthcare workers have shown greater symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression compared to a sample of non-healthcare workers. In the same study, in an evaluation among participating healthcare workers, nurses showed greater psychological distress compared to physicians4. On the other hand, in a similar study in Singapore5, levels of anxiety, depression, and symptoms of PTSD in healthcare personnel were lower than in previous epidemics, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which occurred between 2002 and 2004. This study showed higher levels of anxiety in non-medical personnel (pharmacists, maintenance workers, administrative workers) than in medical personnel. The authors discuss the experience with previous viral outbreaks that the group of healthcare workers had to explain these results5. These two studies show the difference between areas of the world with different exposure to viral outbreaks and how the pandemic may leave some kind of preparation or teaching in healthcare providers around the world for future viral epidemics or similar scenarios.

In psychiatry, for example, the pandemic is likely to precipitate or exacerbate mental disorders. This was highlighted by different societies and international groups interested in mental health and has implied the implementation of different technologies in mental health services to meet the demand for care6. It is important to maintain a certain level of vigilance over mental health problems, especially in healthcare providers, to prevent and treat these conditions appropriately.

Governments should employ health measures to address psychosocial stressors7 that affect the general population and healthcare workers. In particular, measures should be established to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the mental health of healthcare workers (physicians, nurses, and others) who work directly with sick or quarantined people. Only in this way, the devastating consequences for mental health can be avoided or mitigated in the near future


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2. Prasad A, Civantos AM, Byrnes Y, Chorath K, Poonia S, Chang C, et al. Snapshot Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Wellness in Nonphysician Otolaryngology Health Care Workers: A National Study. OTO Open. 2020;4(3):2473974X20948835. 10.1177/2473974X20948835 [ Links ]

3. Ornell F, Halpern SC, Kessler FHP, Narvaez JC de M. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of healthcare professionals. Cad. Saúde Pública. 2020;36(4):e00063520. 10.1590/0102-311x00063520 [ Links ]

4. García-Fernández L, Romero-Ferreiro V, López-Roldán PD, Padilla S, Calero-Sierra I, Monzó-García M, et al. Mental health impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Spanish healthcare workers. Psychol Med. 2020:1-3. 10.1017/S0033291720002019 [ Links ]

5. Tan BYQ, Chew NWS, Lee GKH, Jing M, Goh Y, Yeo LLL, et al. Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Health Care Workers in Singapore. Ann Intern Med. 2020;173(4):317-320. 10.7326/M20-1083 [ Links ]

6. Yahya AS, Khawaja S, Chukwuma J. The Impact of COVID-19 in Psychiatry. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2020;22(2):20l02627. 10.4088/PCC.20l02627 [ Links ]

7. Torales J, O'Higgins M, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Ventriglio A. The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2020;66(4):317-320. 10.1177/0020764020915212 [ Links ]

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