New research published in the Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy journal has identified factors that are important for maintaining the psychological well-being of health workers. The paper is titled “Professional Burnout, Symptoms of Emotional Disorders and Distress among Healthcare Professionals during the COVID-19 Epidemic.”
During a pandemic, doctors, nurses, and other employees of medical facilities are significantly at risk of professional burnout and are susceptible to depressive and anxiety disorders, claims a joint team of scientists from Moscow State University of Psychology and Education (MSUPE) and the N.V. Sklifosovsky Research Institute Of Emergency Medicine.
They conducted the first extensive study in the country to assess the psychological state of health workers from different regions of Russia during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The health and psychophysical well-being of doctors, who are now dubbed ‘frontline workers,’ are critically important for maintaining the health of the entire population as a whole, as well as for increasing the chances of recovery for seriously ill patients," said Alla Kholmogorova, doctor of Psychology, dean of the Faculty of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at MSUPE.
According to the research, systematic professional overwork can lead to emotional exhaustion – the standout symptom of professional burnout – as well as increased stress levels compounded by depression and anxiety.
Suicidal tendencies were also registered in 10 percent of the study’s participants.
Fear of contaminating themselves and their loved ones with the virus, lack of clear information, and logistical difficulties play an important role in the increased stress levels experienced by all healthcare workers, suggests the research.
Most of those surveyed showed a high rate of professional burnout, with 92 percent saying it was down to contact being too formal between workers and patients (depersonalisation), and 61 percent linking it to emotional exhaustion.
However, of those who experienced professional success, 61 percent showed low burnout, which indirectly indicates a high level of mobilisation of health workers and their understanding of their role in fighting the pandemic, according to the scientists.
The study showed that medical workers from the regions were more disadvantaged psychologically, compared to Moscow-based medical workers they had higher levels of depression and anxiety while complaining more often about a lack of protective equipment.
Proper logistical setup of so-called "red zones," where patients are accommodated, was determined to be an extremely important factor in reducing stress levels, according to researchers. First of all, this involves special recreation areas, where workers can take regular breaks and remove protective gear.
Another important factor in maintaining peace of mind was a well-aligned informational channel between medical staff and management.
As the scientists emphasised in the study, maintaining the mental wellbeing of health workers amidst an epidemic requires development of psychological services within medical institutions. Material support, psychological outreach from family, work colleagues, and society as a whole, as well as the creation of an informal, friendly work environment, play a key role in maintaining mental health, concluded the study.
Currently, the staff of the Faculty of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at MSUPE, together with the staff of the N.V. Sklifosovsky Research Institute Of Emergency Medicine, are continuing research into the psychological state of medical workers involved in the fight against the pandemic.