JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2023 Sep 6;9:e45664. doi: 10.2196/45664.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected everyday life and working conditions for most Europeans, particularly health care professionals (HCPs). Over the past 3 years, various policies have been implemented in various European countries. Studies have reported on the worsening of mental health, work-related stress, and helpful coping strategies. However, having a closer look is still necessary to gain more information on the psychosocial stressors and unmet needs of HCPs as well as nonmedical staff.
OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to obtain quantitative information on job-related stressors of physicians and nurses and the coping strategies of HCPs and nonmedical staff at 2 periods of the COVID-19 pandemic. By further analyzing qualitative comments, we wanted to gain more information on the psychosocial stressors and unmet needs of HCPs as well as nonmedical staff on different levels of experience.
METHODS: A cross-sectional survey was conducted at 2 time points during the COVID-19 pandemic in several European countries. The first study period (T1) lasted between April 1 and June 20, 2020, and the second study period (T2) lasted between November 25, 2021, and February 28, 2022. On a quantitative level, we used a questionnaire on stressors for physicians and nurses and a questionnaire on coping strategies for HCPs and nonmedical staff. Quantitative data were descriptively analyzed for mean values and differences in stressors and coping strategies. Qualitative data of free-text boxes of HCPs and nonmedical staff were analyzed via thematic analysis to explore the experiences of the individuals.
RESULTS: T1 comprised 609 participants, and T2 comprised 1398 participants. Overall, 296 participants made 438 qualitative comments. The uncertainty about when the pandemic would be controlled (T1: mean 2.28, SD 0.85; T2: mean 2.08, SD 0.90) and the fear of infecting the family (T1: mean 2.26, SD 0.98; T2: mean 2.02, SD 1.02) were the most severe stressors identified by physicians and nurses in both periods. Overall, the use of protective measures (T1: mean 2.66, SD 0.60; T2: mean 2.66, SD 0.60) and acquiring information about COVID-19 (T1: mean 2.29, SD 0.82; T2: mean 1.99, SD 0.89) were identified as the most common coping strategies for the entire study population. Using thematic analysis, we identified 8 themes of personal experiences on the micro, meso, and macro levels. Measures, working conditions, feelings and emotions, and social climate were frequently mentioned topics of the participants. In T1, feelings of isolation and uncertainty were prominent. In T2, feelings of exhaustion were expressed and vaccination was frequently discussed. Moreover, unmet psychosocial needs were identified.
CONCLUSIONS: There is a need for improvement in pandemic preparedness. Targeted vocational education measures and setting up of web-based mental health support could be useful to bridge gaps in psychosocial support needs in future crises.