Background: Healthcare workers (HCWs) have experienced anxiety and psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. We established and report findings from an occupational health programme for HCWs in Zimbabwe that offered screening for SARS-CoV-2 with integrated screening for comorbidities including common mental disorder (CMD) and referral for counselling.
Methods: Quantitative outcomes were fearfulness about COVID-19, the Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ-14) score (cutpoint 8/14) and the number and proportion of HCWs offered referral for counselling, accepting referral and counselled. We used chi square tests to identify factors associated with fearfulness, and logistic regression was used to model the association of fearfulness with wave, adjusting for variables identified using a DAG. Qualitative data included 18 in-depth interviews, two workshops conducted with HCWs and written feedback from counsellors, analysed concurrently with data collection using thematic analysis.
Results: Between 27 July 2020-31 July 2021, spanning three SARS-CoV-2 waves, the occupational health programme was accessed by 3577 HCWs from 22 facilities. The median age was 37 (IQR 30-43) years, 81.9% were women, 41.7% said they felt fearful about COVID-19 and 12.1% had an SSQ-14 score ≥ 8. A total of 501 HCWs were offered referral for counselling, 78.4% accepted and 68.9% had ≥1 counselling session. Adjusting for setting and role, wave 2 was associated with increased fearfulness over wave 1 (OR = 1.26, 95% CI 1.00-1.60). Qualitative data showed high levels of anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms and burnout related to the pandemic. Mental wellbeing was affected by financial insecurity, unmet physical health needs and inability to provide quality care within a fragile health system.
Conclusions: HCWs in Zimbabwe experience a high burden of mental health symptoms, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainable mental health interventions must be multisectoral addressing mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
Keywords: Anxiety; COVID-19; Mental health; Occupational health.
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