A rapid review of the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers: implications for supporting psychological well-being

BMC Public Health. 2021 Jan 9;21(1):104. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-10070-3.


Background: Health and social care workers (HSCWs) have carried a heavy burden during the COVID-19 crisis and, in the challenge to control the virus, have directly faced its consequences. Supporting their psychological wellbeing continues, therefore, to be a priority. This rapid review was carried out to establish whether there are any identifiable risk factors for adverse mental health outcomes amongst HSCWs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Methods: We undertook a rapid review of the literature following guidelines by the WHO and the Cochrane Collaboration's recommendations. We searched across 14 databases, executing the search at two different time points. We included published, observational and experimental studies that reported the psychological effects on HSCWs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: The 24 studies included in this review reported data predominantly from China (18 out of 24 included studies) and most sampled urban hospital staff. Our study indicates that COVID-19 has a considerable impact on the psychological wellbeing of front-line hospital staff. Results suggest that nurses may be at higher risk of adverse mental health outcomes during this pandemic, but no studies compare this group with the primary care workforce. Furthermore, no studies investigated the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social care staff. Other risk factors identified were underlying organic illness, gender (female), concern about family, fear of infection, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and close contact with COVID-19. Systemic support, adequate knowledge and resilience were identified as factors protecting against adverse mental health outcomes.

Conclusions: The evidence to date suggests that female nurses with close contact with COVID-19 patients may have the most to gain from efforts aimed at supporting psychological well-being. However, inconsistencies in findings and a lack of data collected outside of hospital settings, suggest that we should not exclude any groups when addressing psychological well-being in health and social care workers. Whilst psychological interventions aimed at enhancing resilience in the individual may be of benefit, it is evident that to build a resilient workforce, occupational and environmental factors must be addressed. Further research including social care workers and analysis of wider societal structural factors is recommended.

Keywords: COVID-19; Frontline; Healthcare; Intervention; Mental health; Psychology; Review; Social care; Staff; Workers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors