How is this pandemic impacting physician mental health?
Dr. Bergerot: Physicians are navigating a public health crisis, and it’s natural to feel a loss of control that increases their stress and their anxiety. Being on the frontline, treating patients with COVID-19, or even [being] in quarantine have significant effects on mental health. As a result of this pandemic, we can definitely predict some symptoms of acute stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and we can also expect a long-lasting emotional burden. Preliminary research on COVID-19 in China showcases high rates of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress, which are much higher in nurses, women, and those on the frontline.
What are some unique contributors to physician mental health during this time?
Dr. Bergerot: They are definitely dealing with a highly contagious virus that potentially increases risk of death, with uncertain prognosis, limited treatment options, a severe shortage of resources for testing and treatment, protecting themselves...[they are] protecting their patients and they are also dealing with high risk of exposure to the virus and concerns about infecting and caring for their loved ones and many other challenges that contribute to widespread emotional distress, which increases this risk for psychiatric illness. For sure, the security nature plays into a range of emotional reactions and unhealthy behaviors.
Is there a stage of career when physicians appear to be at the highest risk for experiencing mental health issues?
Dr. Bergerot: Instead of thinking about stage of their career, I would say that definitely all physicians working the frontline [are at higher risk]. Each stage of their careers will have different challenges, [but] for sure, everybody who is working the frontline is at higher risk.
For the stage of their careers, we first thought...the early physicians; however, also the older...even the ones working for a long time that may also experience some mental health issues. I think it will be hard for us if we should...if we just focus on one stage of their career. I think everybody should monitor themselves for anxiety and for depression instead of just classifying which one is in the higher risk.