Long-Term Emotional Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Barriers and Facilitators to Digital Mental Health Tools in Long-Term Care Workers: Qualitative Study

J Med Internet Res. 2024 May 29:26:e47546. doi: 10.2196/47546.

Abstract

Background: The overall pandemic created enormous pressure on long-term care workers (LTCWs), making them particularly vulnerable to mental disorders. Despite this, most of the available evidence on professional well-being during COVID-19 has exclusively focused on frontline health care workers.

Objective: This study aimed to identify the long-term psychological needs of LTCWs derived from the COVID-19 pandemic and to explore barriers and facilitators related to digital mental health tools. This is part of a project that seeks to develop a digital mental health intervention to reduce psychological distress in this population group.

Methods: We performed a qualitative study with a rapid research approach. Participants were LTCWs of the autonomous community of Catalonia. We conducted 30 semistructured interviews between April and September 2022. We used a qualitative content analysis method with an inductive-deductive approach.

Results: The period of the pandemic with the highest mental health burden was the COVID-19 outbreak, with almost all workers having experienced some form of emotional distress. Emotional distress persisted over time in more than half of the participants, with fatigue and nervousness being the main emotions expressed at the time of the interview. High workload, the feeling that pandemic times are not over, and poor working conditions that have remained since then have been the most frequently expressed determinants of such emotions. Potential barriers and facilitators to engagement with digital tools were also identified in terms of previous experience and beliefs of the target population, possibilities for the integration of a digital tool into daily life, preferences regarding the level of guidance, the possibility of social connectedness through the tool, and privacy and confidentiality. The identified factors may become especially relevant in the context of the pandemic remission phase.

Conclusions: More than 2 years after the pandemic outbreak, emotional distress is still relevant. The persistent burden of psychological distress points to a need for institutions to take action to improve working conditions and promote employees' well-being. Considering factors that act as barriers and facilitators for the use of digital mental health tools, it is important to develop tailored tools that could offer valuable support to this population during and after a pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; digital mental health; digital mental health interventions; digital technology; health care professionals; long-term care; mental health; mobile phone; well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Personnel* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care* / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Psychological Distress
  • Qualitative Research*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Telemedicine