Pandemic-Related Stress Among Healthcare Workers May Lead to Burnout and Mental Health Issues

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

The pressures placed on our healthcare workers are unlike any they have ever faced—caring for patients infected by a new virus with no cure, undergoing unanticipated changes in work assignments, showing up to a shift knowing there is a PPE shortage, and risking their own health and the health of their loved ones every day. There is no guaranteed silver bullet promising an end to the chaos, and yet, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff continue to show up and place themselves at risk in order to treat their patients. The strain on their bodies is evident—they are working long, intense hours with few breaks all the while wearing restrictive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). However, the strain on these healthcare providers’ mental and emotional health is less apparent and looks different for every individual. As mentioned, healthcare workers experience a higher risk of death by suicide than the general public, and now they are treading uncharted waters surrounded by new stressors.

Increased Worry and Stress

The aforementioned KFF brief reported an increase of worry and stress in households of healthcare workers: “The KFF Tracking Poll conducted in mid-April found that 64% of households with a health care worker said worry and stress over the coronavirus caused them to experience at least one adverse effect, such as difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions, on their mental health and wellbeing, compared to 56% of the total population” (Panchal et al., 2020).

The results of a survey by NurseGrid (2020) of over 15,000 nurses at the onset of the pandemic confirmed the added stress placed on nurses. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of nurses throughout the U.S. reported they experienced a change in their work assignment due to the pandemic, and many of them are being reassigned to treat COVID-19 patients. The majority (84%) of nurses who work at facilities treating COVID-19 patients reported more new N95 masks are needed. Aside from a shortage of N95 masks, more than half of reporting nurses indicated a concern over a shortage of negative airflow rooms (53%) and shields (52%).

Surveyed nurses were asked to report their top concerns related to working during the pandemic. Nurses’ most reported concern was for the safety of others. Some 79% of respondents selected fear of infecting family and friends as their highest concern. The other top selected responses included becoming infected while at work (61%), burnout (28%), and my mental health (27%). 


NurseGrid. (2020). Nursing professionals pulse survey: 2020 Pandemic. Retrieved from:
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Cox, C., Garfield, R., Hamel, L., Muñana, C., Chidambaram, P. (2020). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Retrieved from:

This blog post continues our series of excerpts from the HealthStream article, As COVID-19 Spreads, So Does Its Impact on Mental Health. Future excerpts will include:

  • Symptoms Pointing to a Mental Health Crisis
  • Underlying Issues Exacerbating Mental Health During Covid-19
  • Stressful Environments Could Lead to Increased Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence
  • Anxiety and Depression Related to Job Loss and Income Insecurity
  • Anticipating a Surge of Mental Health Challenges alongside Pandemic Aftermath

Download the full article about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health here.

The Mental Health Imperative

As public understanding of mental health issues and disorders grows, the demand for behavioral health services will continue to increase. This growing market must prepare to serve the more than 40 million Americans (one in five) with a mental health condition—56 percent of them currently do not receive treatment. At HealthStream, we understand that behavioral health services and the required competencies may look a little different from other providers. That’s why some of the largest behavioral health organizations in the country have partnered with HealthStream to mitigate risk, improve staff competence, and increase overall efficiency. Explore our solutions for mental health staff and professionals.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in the article excerpted here was considered current at the time of its publishing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving disaster due to new findings, data, and availability of resources. Please refer to the CDC website for the latest detailed information when you need it.