The prevalence of common and stress-related mental health disorders in healthcare workers based in pandemic-affected hospitals: a rapid systematic review and meta-analysis

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Sophie M. Allan, Rebecca Bealey, Jennifer Birch, Toby Cushing, Sheryl Parke, Georgina Sergi, Michael Bloomfield & Richard Meiser-Stedman


Background: Healthcare workers (HCWs) are considered at elevated risk of experiencing mental health disorders in working with patients with COVID-19.

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of common mental health disorders in HCWs based in hospitals where pandemic-affected patients were treated.

Method: Databases were searched for studies published before 30 March 2020. Quantitative synthesis was used to obtain estimates of the prevalence of mental health disorders in four time windows, determined a priori (the acute phase, i.e. during and up to 1.5 months post-pandemic; 1.5–5.9 months; 6–11.9 months; 12 months and later).

Results: Nineteen studies met the review criteria. They predominantly addressed the acute phase of the SARS outbreak in Asia. The most studied outcomes were clinically significant post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and general psychiatric caseness. For clinically significant PTSS in the acute phase, the prevalence estimate was 23.4% (95% CI 16.3, 31.2; N = 4147; I2 = 96.2%); in the 12 months plus window, the estimate was 11.9% (8.4, 15.8; N = 1136; I2 = 74.3%). For general psychiatric caseness, prevalence estimates were acute phase, 34.1% (18.7, 51.4; N = 3971; I2 = 99.1%); 6–12 months, 17.9% (13.1, 23.2; N = 223; I2 = 0.0%); 12 months plus, 29.3% (6.0, 61.0; N = 710; I2 = 97.8%). No differences between doctors and nurses with respective to PTSS and general psychiatric caseness were apparent in the acute phase.

Conclusions: Mental health disorders are particularly common in HCWs working with pandemic-afflicted patients immediately following a pandemic, but the course of disorders following this period is poorly understood. There was considerable heterogeneity between studies, likely linked to methodological differences. More extended follow up of HCWs is needed.

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