What do healthcare workers need? A qualitative study on support strategies to protect mental health of healthcare workers during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

BMC Psychiatry. 2023 Mar 24;23(1):195. doi: 10.1186/s12888-023-04686-z.


Background: To support healthcare workers (HCWs) during the increased burden caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, numerous recommendations for action and possible interventions have been developed. However, the actual protective factors, needs and desires of those affected, as well as potential barriers to implementing psychological interventions, have been insufficiently examined. This study addresses this research gap and captures HCWs' experiences and views.

Methods: Medical personnel including nursing staff and physicians were recruited for a qualitative study regarding protective factors as well as barriers to the implementation of support services. We conducted 21 individual, semi-structured interviews with members of the medical staff at tertiary care center in Germany. The collected data were analyzed using a qualitative content analysis.

Results: The analyses showed that social interaction in the professional and private context was rated as helpful in coping with the challenges of everyday work amplified by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The results also suggest that the available support services, despite being highly valued, were rarely accessed. Possible barriers included the fear of negative consequences when asking for support. It could be deduced that the fear and shame of admitting one's own mistakes as well as the work-related tradition of showing no weakness could be the underlying factors for this fear.

Results: The results of this study suggest that medical staff need a more extensive range of low-threshold support services, which should be adapted to the respective needs of the professional groups. The study also provides indications that the norms and expectations represented in the hospital system require critical reflection.

Keywords: Barriers; COVID-19; Healthcare workers; Mental health; Psychological support; SARS-CoV-2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

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