[Health professionals facing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: What are the mental health risks?]

Encephale. 2020 Jun;46(3S):S73-S80. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2020.04.008. Epub 2020 Apr 22.
[Article in French]


Objectives: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused major sanitary crisis worldwide. Half of the world has been placed in quarantine. In France, this large-scale health crisis urgently triggered the restructuring and reorganization of health service delivery to support emergency services, medical intensive care units and continuing care units. Health professionals mobilized all their resources to provide emergency aid in a general climate of uncertainty. Concerns about the mental health, psychological adjustment, and recovery of health care workers treating and caring for patients with COVID-19 are now arising. The goal of the present article is to provide up-to-date information on potential mental health risks associated with exposure of health professionals to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Authors performed a narrative review identifying relevant results in the scientific and medical literature considering previous epidemics of 2003 (SARS-CoV-1) and 2009 (H1N1) with the more recent data about the COVID-19 pandemic. We highlighted most relevant data concerning the disease characteristics, the organizational factors and personal factors that may contribute to developing psychological distress and other mental health symptoms.

Results: The disease characteristics of the current COVID-19 pandemic provoked a generalized climate of wariness and uncertainty, particularly among health professionals, due to a range of causes such as the rapid spread of COVID-19, the severity of symptoms it can cause in a segment of infected individuals, the lack of knowledge of the disease, and deaths among health professionals. Stress may also be caused by organizational factors, such as depletion of personal protection equipment, concerns about not being able to provide competent care if deployed to new area, concerns about rapidly changing information, lack of access to up-to-date information and communication, lack of specific drugs, the shortage of ventilators and intensive care unit beds necessary to care for the surge of critically ill patients, and significant change in their daily social and family life. Further risk factors have been identified, including feelings of being inadequately supported, concerns about health of self, fear of taking home infection to family members or others, and not having rapid access to testing through occupational health if needed, being isolated, feelings of uncertainty and social stigmatization, overwhelming workload, or insecure attachment. Additionally, we discussed positive social and organizational factors that contribute to enhance resilience in the face of the pandemic. There is a consensus in all the relevant literature that health care professionals are at an increased risk of high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, which could have long-term psychological implications.

Conclusions: In the long run, this tragic health crisis should significantly enhance our understanding of the mental health risk factors among the health care professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporting information such as this is essential to plan future prevention strategies. Protecting health care professionals is indeed an important component of public health measures to address large-scale health crisis. Thus, interventions to promote mental well-being in health care professionals exposed to COVID-19 need to be immediately implemented, and to strengthen prevention and response strategies by training health care professionals on mental help and crisis management.

Objectifs: La pandémie de la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) a provoqué une crise sanitaire majeure et mis en quarantaine la moitié de la population planétaire. En France, elle a provoqué une réorganisation en urgence de l’offre de soins mobilisant les soignants dans un climat d’incertitude. L’objectif du présent article est de faire le point sur les risques associés à l’exposition des soignants au COVID-19 pour leur santé mentale.

Méthodes: Les auteurs ont conduit une revue de la littérature internationale tenant compte des données des précédentes épidémies (SARS-CoV-1, H1N1) et des données plus récentes concernant le COVID-19.

Résultats: Les caractéristiques de cette pandémie (rapidité de diffusion, connaissances incertaines, sévérité, décès de soignants) ont installé un climat anxiogène. Des facteurs organisationnels peuvent être source de stress : déficit d’équipement de protection individuel, réaffectation de postes, manque de communication, manque de matériels de soins, bouleversement de la vie quotidienne familiale et sociale. D’autres facteurs de risque sont identifiés comme l’absence de soutien, la crainte de contaminer un proche, l’isolement ou la stigmatisation sociale, le haut niveau de stress au travail ou les patterns d’attachement insécure. Les soignants ont ainsi un risque augmenté d’anxiété, de dépression, d’épuisement, d’addiction et de trouble de stress post-traumatique.

Conclusions: Cette crise sanitaire devrait nous aider à mieux comprendre la vulnérabilité des soignants à la souffrance psychologique afin de renforcer les stratégies de prévention primaire et la formation aux enjeux psychologiques des soins, de la relation, et de la gestion des situations de crises sanitaires.

Keywords: Anxiety; Anxiété; COVID-19; Depression; Dépression; Health personnel; Mental health; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Professionnels de santé; Santé mentale; Trouble de stress post-traumatique.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Behavior, Addictive / etiology
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Depression / etiology
  • France / epidemiology
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Health Workforce
  • Helplessness, Learned
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional / prevention & control
  • Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1919
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral*
  • Protective Devices / supply & distribution
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Uncertainty
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / psychology
  • Workload