The Emotional Toll of Coronavirus for Healthcare Workers

Research reveals psychological burdens of COVID-19 on frontline health workers.

Posted May 07, 2020

Photo by Graham Ruttan on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Graham Ruttan on Unsplash

By Katie Poulin

Despite extreme risk and exposure, medical professionals are working tirelessly to tend to the physical demands of those affected by COVID-19. While they bravely put the needs of others above themselves, the mental health implications of their sacrifice cannot be overlooked. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open and led by Dr. Jianbo Lai is shedding light on the extent of emotional trauma these workers endure and the need for immediate mental health well-being interventions.

Lai and his team conducted a cross-sectional, survey-based study by collecting “demographic data and mental health measurements from 1,257 health care workers in 34 hospitals from January 29, 2020, to February 3, 2020, in China.” The researchers sought to evaluate levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress among healthcare workers.

Overall, the study found:

  • High prevalence of mental health symptoms among health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 in China, including symptoms of depression (50.4% of workers), anxiety (44.6%), insomnia (34.0%), and distress (71.5%).
  • Nurses, women, those working in Wuhan, and frontline workers reported more severe symptoms on all measurements. 

These findings underscore that protecting health care workers is vital in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. According to researchers, “special interventions to promote mental well-being in health care workers exposed to COVID-19 need to be immediately implemented, with women, nurses, and frontline workers requiring particular attention.”

The study serves as a remember to take care of the ones who take care of us—who put others before themselves.

Katie Poulin is a Master's student at Wheaton College (IL) studying Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership.


Lai J, Ma S, Wang Y, et al. Factors Associated With Mental Health Outcomes Among Health Care Workers Exposed to Coronavirus Disease 2019JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(3):e203976. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3976