The Mental Health of Frontline Health Care Providers During Pandemics: A Rapid Review of the Literature

Psychiatr Serv. 2020 Dec 1;71(12):1260-1269. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2020 Oct 6.


Objective: This rapid review addresses two key questions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: What are the anticipated mental health sequelae for frontline health workers? and What are best practices during health emergencies to address the mental health needs of these workers?

Methods: This review synthesized the literature on the mental health sequelae for health workers during major pandemics and epidemics that occurred in the 21st century (severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome, Ebola virus disease, and swine flu) and interventions used to address related mental health sequelae. PubMed, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO were searched with terms related to these epidemics/pandemics.

Results: Of 3,876 articles retrieved, 94 were included in this review. Across these studies, most health workers exhibited some adverse psychological experiences during outbreaks, with stress and anxiety being most common. Psychological distress decreased over time. Some studies reported insomnia, burnout, and posttraumatic stress for a subset of individuals up to 3 years after the disease outbreak. Few interventions have been implemented to address providers' mental health needs, and these strategies have not been evaluated systematically.

Conclusions: Systems-level interventions may alleviate distress for most providers without the need for specialized mental health intervention. Psychotherapeutic support and referral to specialty care should be available to health workers with severe and intense adverse psychological outcomes during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence-based interventions are urgently needed to better serve health workers both during and following epidemics/pandemics.

Keywords: Coronavirus/COVID-19; Frontline workers; Health providers; Mental health; Pandemic; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Occupational Stress* / etiology
  • Occupational Stress* / prevention & control
  • Occupational Stress* / psychology
  • Pandemics*
  • SARS-CoV-2