COVID-19: Pandemic Increases PTSD, Suicidal Ideation in Health Care Workers

With health care workers reporting increased rates of depression, anxiety, and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, the study authors investigated posttraumatic stress symptoms in these frontline workers.

The following article is a part of conference coverage from the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting 2021, held virtually from May 1 to 3, 2021. The team at Psychiatry Advisor will be reporting on the latest news and research conducted by leading experts in psychiatry. Check back for more from the APA 2021.


Rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are high among health care workers (HCWs) fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to study results presented at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, held virtually from May 1 to May 3, 2021.

HCWs are the frontline of the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the burden of this role has resulted in high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Because the APA has categorized the current pandemic as a trauma, research was conducted to investigate symptoms of posttraumatic stress in HCWs in an online, cross-sectional study.

Between September 15 and October 15, 2020, HCWs aged 18 to 65 with no previous history of PTSD who had worked actively during the pandemic completed self-administered questionnaires that collected both sociodemographic information and responses on the PTSD checklist for the DSM-5 (PCL-5) scale.

The total cohort included 1833 HCWs (mean age, 32.66±7 years; 1035 women; 1390 physicians and 443 nonphysicians). Overall, the PTSD rate among HCWs was 39.3%. Nonphysician HCWs showed a higher rate of PTSD compared with physicians and had higher mean PCL-5 scores (49.5% vs 36% and 56.6±19.1 vs 42.7±20.2, respectively).

HCWs with PTSD demonstrated a higher rate of suicidal ideation compared with their counterparts without PTSD (16.8% vs 3%) and reported higher rates of feeling isolated (78.4% vs 41.8%).

The study investigators found that the PCL-5 score negatively correlated with age and years of job experience (rho, 0.166 and 0.112, respectively; P <.001 for both), and positively correlated with the duration of time worked on a COVID-19 unit (rho, 0.096; P <.001). Compared with HCWs with and without COVID-19, HCWs with COVID-19 had higher PCL-5 scores and higher rates of suicidal ideation.

“Since the pandemic broke out, HCWs have put great effort into fighting the pandemic at the frontline, despite the risk [for] infection and death,” the study researchers noted. “The PTSD rate [among HCWs] dramatically increased during the COVID-19 era, which should be addressed at once.”

“This is a totally new situation, and regular coping mechanisms such as social gatherings and traveling are unavailable due to restrictions,” they concluded. “Counseling via telemedicine should be widely available to HCWs, and they should be screened for PTSD and [suicidal ideation] regularly.”

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Bayazit H, Ozel M, Arac S, Dulgeroglu-Bayazit D, Joshi A. Posttraumatic stress disorder among healthcare workers during COVID-19 era. Presented at: APA annual meeting May 1-3, 2021. Abstract/Poster 5224.