COVID-19’s Impact on Health Care Workers and Mental Health

December 26, 2020
Marco Meglio
Marco Meglio

Marco Meglio, Associate Editor for NeurologyLive, has been with the team since October 2019. Follow him on Twitter @marcomeglio1 or email him at mmeglio@neurologylive.com

NeurologyLive compiled a number of interviews and conversations with leaders within the neurology community to discuss how the pandemic affected mental health, specifically at an in-hospital setting.

As the calendar year concludes, NeurologyLive took the time to look back and reflect on how COVID-19, and the pandemic itself, has impacted clinical care across a range of different conditions and treatment strategies in 2020. The sixth segment of “Reflections of the Impact of COVID-19: A Short Expert Series,” covers the toll the pandemic had on clinicians, and frontline workers in particular.

Calling 2020 was stressful would be selling it short for many, including those in health care working on the front line. Lost in the shuffle of the rising COVID-19 cases, the widespread lockdowns and governmental measures, and the questions of when life would return back to normal was the mental hardships that those on the front line faced.

Frontline workers dedicated enormous amounts of hours, while risking their life and potentially their families, by interacting with those with the virus each and every day. They were thrust into positions that they had never manned before and were expected to excel in treating a disease that had no vaccine or cure.

We gained the perspective of those on the front line, including a number of clinicians from New York, which was widely considered the US epicenter for the majority of 2020. David Langer, MD, chair of neurosurgery, Lenox Hill Hospital, in Manhattan, provided his thoughts on answering the call for COVID-19 in a live interview from the Javits Center, a facility used to house COVID-19-positive patients when hospitals were overcrowded.

The impact on the physicians has been a major topic of concern as well. Leah Croll, MD, and other members of the NYU Langone Health Department compiled a survey during the year for all neurology faculty and house staff to better understand the psychosocial impact the pandemic had on categories such as fear, depression, and anxiety. They found that nearly half of the faculty and more than half of the house staff reported increases in all 3 categories. We sat down with Croll in September to discuss the importance of mental health of clinicians during the pandemic.

Her colleague, Jennifer Frontera, MD, echoed similar thoughts, claiming that the amount of death she saw was stunning, even as someone who was accustomed to seeing patients in their weakest stages of disease. She added, “I’ve never seen such sick patients. I’ve never seen so many people dying or deteriorating simultaneously. I probably still haven’t even fully processed the effects of that.”

The mental health of those with neurological disorders also took a hit as well, especially with the lack of mobility and activeness for some with movement disorders. Indu Subramanian, MD, and colleagues presented data at the 2020 MDS Virtual Congress that suggested that social isolation and loneliness can be risk factors for worsened disease severity—a concern as more patients are spending time alone at home. She detailed why preventing social isolation, particularly in the time of COVID-19, can help prevent worsened disease states in patients.

There is no question the pandemic has had an impact on the mental health of everyone, which has been reinforced by the increased number of patients with depression, and the rising number of suicides. Click the links below for an additional look into how the pandemic impacted mental health.