Mental health of staff working in intensive care during Covid-19

Occup Med (Lond). 2021 Apr 9;71(2):62-67. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqaa220.


Background: Staff working in intensive care units (ICUs) have faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic which have the potential to adversely affect their mental health.

Aims: To identify the rates of probable mental health disorder in staff working in ICUs in nine English hospitals during June and July 2020.

Methods: An anonymized brief web-based survey comprising standardized questionnaires examining depression, anxiety symptoms, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), well-being and alcohol use was administered to staff.

Results: Seven hundred and nine participants completed the surveys comprising 291 (41%) doctors, 344 (49%) nurses and 74 (10%) other healthcare staff. Over half (59%) reported good well-being; however, 45% met the threshold for probable clinical significance on at least one of the following measures: severe depression (6%), PTSD (40%), severe anxiety (11%) or problem drinking (7%). Thirteen per cent of respondents reported frequent thoughts of being better off dead, or of hurting themselves in the past 2 weeks. Within the sample used in this study, we found that doctors reported better mental health than nurses across a range of measures.

Conclusions: We found substantial rates of probable mental health disorders, and thoughts of self-harm, amongst ICU staff; these difficulties were especially prevalent in nurses. Whilst further work is needed to better understand the real level of clinical need amongst ICU staff, these results indicate the need for a national strategy to protect the mental health, and decrease the risk of functional impairment, of ICU staff whilst they carry out their essential work during COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; PTSD; doctors; intensive care; mental health; nurses; self-harm.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Health*
  • Nurses / psychology
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Pandemics*
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires