Caring for those who care for us: protecting the mental health of healthcare providers during the pandemic

Jun 20, 2021

The pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on frontline healthcare workers. Faced with fear, burnout, and loss, how can we care for those who care for the public? Dr. Robert Maunder and his team are measuring emotional exhaustion among hospital workers and identifying ways we can protect their mental health.





What motivated this research?
RM: We were motivated by our desire to reduce the impact of the inevitable stress we knew our colleagues would experience during the pandemic. Part of this research project involves providing peer-led resilience support to staff at Sinai Health. Ultimately, the surveys that we are doing, which this paper describes, will allow us to assess if that support has worked.
What was the most important finding of this study, in your opinion?
RM: This study documents levels of burnout and psychological distress that were very high and were rising as the second wave of the pandemic started to subside. More than 60% of nurses reported a severe level of emotional exhaustion by the winter of 2021, compared to 20-40% in similar studies before the pandemic. One of the most important outcomes of our research is identifying that some factors linked to burnout are fairly easy to change. In particular self-efficacy (which in this setting means having confidence that you can meet the challenges of the pandemic) is strongly related to lower burnout.
How does this change treatment towards healthcare workers in the future?
RM: In two ways. First, we know from prior research that self-efficacy improves with training and with support from your organization, so this research reveals some actions health care organizations can take to protect their people. Second, the research identifies the groups who most need this support, such as nurses and health care providers with kids or elders at home.
Any next steps?
RM: We are planning to repeat these survey measures every 3 months, at least until the summer of 2022. That will give us the evidence we need to assess if our peer support program has been helpful and will also track the long-term consequences of the pandemic. It is an unprecedented situation so without research we can’t know how long the effects of pandemic-related stress will last.
What is the major take home message for the public?
RM: Front-line health care workers are experiencing extraordinary and persistent stress in their jobs. This problem has grown worse over the course of the pandemic. We know some things that can be done to improve their situation. We need to make sure that there are resources in place to support health care workers and we need to continue studying the ongoing impact of the pandemic to keep our health care providers and our health care system at their best.





ImPACT Committee includes Krista Lanctôt, Alastair Flint, Meng-Chuan Lai and Simone Vigod.
Maunder RG, Heeney ND, Kiss A, Hunter JJ, Jeffs LP, Ginty L, Johnstone J, Loftus CA, Wiesenfeld LA. Psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hospital workers over time: Relationship to occupational role, living with children and elders, and modifiable factors. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2021 May 5;71:88-94. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2021.04.012. Epub ahead of print.