London, Oct 18 : Almost a quarter of health-care workers (23.4 per cent) experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the most acute phase of the previous pandemic outbreaks -- with 11.9 per cent of front-line workers experiencing symptoms almost a year on, new research has revealed.
Mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety and depression are common among healthcare staff during and immediately after pandemics, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.
"Nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and all support staff based in hospitals where patients with Covid-19 are treated are facing considerable pressure, over a sustained period," said Professor Richard Meiser-Stedman from UEA's Norwich Medical School.
Researchers investigated how treating patients in past pandemics such as SARS and MERS affected the mental health of front-line staff.
They looked at data about elevated levels of mental distress and found that more than a third of health workers (34.1 per cent) experienced symptoms such as anxiety or depression during the acute phase, dropping to 17.9 per cent after six months.
This figure however increased again to 29.3 per cent after 12 months or longer.
The team hoped that their work will help highlight the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic could be having on the mental health of doctors and nurses around the world.
"In addition to the challenge of treating a large volume of severely unwell patients, front line staff also have to contend with threats to their own physical health through infection, particularly as they have had to face shortages of essential personal protective equipment," Meiser-Stedman said.
The media has reported that healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients will face a 'tsunami' of mental health problems as a result of their work.
"We wanted to examine this by looking closely at the existing data from previous pandemics to better understand the potential impact of Covid-19," the authors wrote.
They estimated the prevalence of common mental health disorders in health care workers based in pandemic-affected hospitals.
They looked at 19 studies which included data predominantly from the SARS outbreak in Asia and Canada, and which tended to focus on the acute stage of the pandemic -- during and up to around six weeks after the pandemic.
"We found that post-traumatic stress symptoms were elevated during the acute phase of a pandemic and at 12 months post-pandemic," said trainee clinical psychologist Sophie Allan.