Introduction: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been shown to increase levels of psychological distress among healthcare workers. Little is known, however, about specific positive and negative individual and organizational factors that affect the mental health of emergency physicians (EP) during COVID-19. Our objective was to assess these factors in a broad geographic sample of EPs in the United States.
Methods: We conducted an electronic, prospective, cross-sectional national survey of EPs from October 6-December 29, 2020. Measures assessed negative mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and insomnia), positive work-related outcomes, and strategies used to cope with COVID-19. After preliminary analyses and internal reliability testing, we performed four separate three-stage hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine individual and organizational predictive factors for psychological distress.
Results: Response rate was 50%, with 259 EPs completing the survey from 11 different sites. Overall, 85% of respondents reported negative psychological effects due to COVID-19. Participants reported feeling more stressed (31%), lonelier (26%), more anxious (25%), more irritable (24%) and sadder (17.5%). Prevalence of mental health conditions was 17% for depression, 13% for anxiety, 7.5% for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 18% for insomnia. Regular exercise decreased from 69% to 56%, while daily alcohol use increased from 8% to 15%. Coping strategies of behavioral disengagement, self-blame, and venting were significant predictors of psychological distress, while humor and positive reframing were negatively associated with psychological distress.
Conclusion: Emergency physicians have experienced high levels of psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those using avoidant coping strategies were most likely to experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD, while humor and positive reframing were effective coping strategies.