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The global mental health burden of COVID-19 on critical care staff

10 June 2021
16 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 11



Although the mental health burden in healthcare workers caused by COVID-19 has gained increasing attention both within the profession and through public opinion, there has been a lack of data describing their experience; specifically, the mental wellbeing of healthcare workers in the intensive care unit (ICU), including those redeployed.


The authors aimed to compare the mental health status of ICU healthcare workers (physicians, nurses and allied health professionals) affected by various factors during the COVID-19 pandemic; and highlight to policymakers areas of staff vulnerabilities in order to improve wellbeing strategies within healthcare systems.


An online survey using three validated scales was conducted in France, the UK, Italy, Mainland China, Taiwan, Egypt and Belgium.


The proportion of respondents who screened positive on the three scales across the countries was 16–49% for depression, 60–86% for insomnia and 17–35% for post-traumatic stress disorder. The authors also identified an increase in the scores with longer time spent in personal protective equipment, female gender, advancing age and redeployed status.


The high prevalence of mental disorders among ICU staff during the COVID-19 crisis should inform local and national wellbeing policies.

The vulnerability of healthcare workers to COVID-19 is enhanced by the fast spreading of the coronavirus (the reproduction rate of SARS-CoV-2 is around 2.5 compared with 0.9 for MERS-CoV) (Petersen et al, 2020) and unexpected transmission by air travel, because many countries had limited or no time to prepare well. As of 3 June 2021, there were over 210 countries and territories suffering from COVID-19, with around 171 million confirmed cases and 3.5 million deaths (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2021). Among the COVID-19 cases reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), 14% are among health workers in which the loss of lives accounts for thousands (WHO, 2020). Similarly, the observational cohort study conducted by Nguyen et al (2020) presented that frontline healthcare workers in the UK and USA had at least a threefold increased risk of COVID-19 infection compared with the general community.

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