Expert Contribution

How hard-hit was university healthcare workers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic? How about after the end of the movement lockdown?

Published : 29 December 2020

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection or better known as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) which began in China and has now spread to 218 countries and territories around the globe was the main issue which dominated the news globally since it was declared as a global pandemic in March 2020. Since January 2020, numerous studies have investigated on the impact of the COVID-19 on not only the physical health, but also the mental health of people around the world. Besides the general population, the mental health of healthcare workers has been greatly affected as a result of their frequent exposure to COVID-19 positive patients and their risk of contracting the infection.

Recently, a group of researchers from Advanced Medical and Dental Institute, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Department of Psychiatry, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre has conducted an online study to investigate the mental health status of a cohort of 399 university healthcare workers from the Klang Valley in the central of Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Penang and Kelantan. University healthcare workers were selected due to the multitasking nature of their work scope (the need to provide healthcare services and to carried out academic duties), which was suitable group of the population to study for mental health status during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that the prevalence of depression, anxiety and stress were still elevated at 21.8%, 31.6% and 29.1%, respectively even after the movement lockdown was lifted. Being single or divorced, fear of frequent exposure to COVID-19 patients, area of living had a high prevalence of COVID-19 cases, uncertainty regarding the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the area of living, and a history of pre-existing psychiatric illnesses predisposed to higher odds of depression, anxiety, and stress. While having more than three children and greater perceived friend support were protective against depression, anxiety, and stress. Although several COVID-19 related stressors were investigated in this study, such as loss of daily routine during the pandemic, annual leave being frozen during the pandemic, longer working hours, history of having physical symptoms which resembled the COVID-29 infection (cough, flu and fever) and history of quarantine after coming into close contact with COVID-19-positive cases, these stressors were not worrying as they did not predispose to worsening of mental health among healthcare workers. Interestingly, this study highlighted that the fear which arise from the COVID-19 pandemic itself may posed a threat to the mental health of healthcare workers independent of movement lockdown. Another important finding to take note of was that of the pivotal role of high level of social support from friends which maintained the mental well-being among healthcare workers. Hence, creating a supportive environment among healthcare workers working within the same hospital may safeguard their mental well-being. The researchers also recommended several strategies to improve the mental health of healthcare workers based on the findings and also pinpointed a few recommendations to be included for future studies on the psychological impact of COVID 19 pandemic. The findings were published in Clinical Toxicology and could be accessed through the link below:

Woon, L. .-C.; Sidi, H.; Nik Jaafar, N.R.; Leong Bin Abdullah, M.F.I. Mental Health Status of University Healthcare Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Post–Movement Lockdown Assessment. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 9155 doi:10.3390/ijerph17249155

Scroll to Top