Types of COVID-19 Disaster Work and Psychological Responses in National Guard Service Members

Mil Med. 2024 May 17:usae228. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usae228. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: The National Guard (NG) served as a critical component of the U.S. response to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Understanding the impact of types of pandemic-related disaster work on mental health responses can aid in sustaining NG service members' health and preparation for subsequent activations and future pandemics.

Materials and methods: We surveyed 1,363 NG unit (NGU) service members (88% Army; 80% enlisted; 32% 30 to 39 years old; 84% male) following activation in response to the pandemic. Surveys were administered between August and December 2020, which was approximately 2 to 3 months post-activation. Surveys assessed overall activation stress, participation in different types of disaster work, probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, and anger. A disaster work stress scale assessed different types of disaster work during activation and associated stress levels. For each individual, we calculated an overall work task stress (WTS) scaled score, with a maximum score of 100. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationship of high-stress disaster work tasks to post-activation PTSD, anxiety and depression, and anger, adjusting for socio-demographic and service-related variables. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Uniformed Services University (USU) in Bethesda, MD.

Results: Among NGU service members, 12.7% (n = 172) described their activation as very/extremely stressful. The work tasks with the highest scaled scores were as follows: (1) Patient transportation (WTS scaled score = 100); (2) working with the dead (WTS = 82.2); and (3) working with families of coronavirus disease 2019 patients (WTS = 72.7). For each individual's work tasks, we identified the work task associated with the highest WTS score. The top one-third of WTS scores were classified as the high-stress group. Approximately 9% of participants (n = 111) had probable PTSD, 6.7% (n = 85) had clinically significant anxiety and depression, and 12.3% (n = 156) had high anger. Multivariable logistic regression analyses, adjusting for covariates, found that NGU service members exposed to the highest level of disaster WTS were more likely to report PTSD (odds ratio [OR] = 1.48 [95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.13-1.94], χ2 = 7.98), anxiety and depression (OR = 1.91 [95% CI = 1.17-3.13]; χ2 = 6.67), and anger (OR = 1.63 [95% CI = 1.13-2.37]; χ2 = 6.66) post-activation.

Conclusions: Identifying work tasks associated with high levels of stress can help detect individuals at risk for adverse mental health responses post-exposure. Distinguishing features of high-stress work conditions can be generalized to other types of work conditions and disaster response and are important targets for planning and preventive efforts.