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3-Year Study of Healthcare Worker Mental Wellbeing and Burnout

In November 2019, the world first began hearing whispers of a new highly transmissible virus, but few realized the degree to which it would reshape the way we live and work, and the impact it would have on the mental health of so many people, including the doctors and nurses on the front-line of our health care systems.


Receptiviti felt it was important to document this global trauma by curating a dataset for research into psychological distress caused by large-scale, sustained, traumatic events. To this end, we have curated a dataset of the daily language from over 6,500 healthcare professionals, comprised of almost 4 million comments spanning a four-year period, and we are making it available to researchers, by request.


Why Are We Sharing Data?


Our commitment stems from the recognition that a robust collection of well-documented data is essential for advancing our understanding of psychological trauma. By making this dataset available, we aim to provide a valuable resource for fellow researchers, educators, and practitioners to explore, analyze, and contribute to the understanding of trauma. Ultimately, we hope to foster greater understanding and advancements in the detection and treatment of trauma-induced psychological distress.


The Healthcare Professionals’ Mental Wellbeing Dataset is a dataset comprised of language from the Reddit submissions of 4,138 self-identified nurses and 2,585 self-identified doctors spanning four years (and counting) beginning July, 2019. Language from each doctor and nurse was, and continues to be, collected from all their submissions to Reddit including their posts, subreddits, and comments, regardless of the topic. At time of writing, the dataset contained 3.9 million comments.


Dataset Highlights: Longitudinal Study of Mental Wellbeing


To illustrate the richness of insights available from the dataset, below we highlight periods of time where shifts in doctors’ and nurses’ mental wellness appear, and likely causes for these shifts (such as uncertainty, patient animosity, sustained pressure, long working hours, etc.). We encourage others to further explore the dataset.


We analyzed the dataset using the Receptiviti API, focusing on seven measures that are indicative of mental wellbeing and precursors to burnout. The measures are Analytical Thinking, Cognitive Load, Stress, Anxiety, Anger, Fear, and Empathy. For more details on the measures, definitions, measure construction and the API, see https://docs.receptiviti.com/frameworks.


Period 1: Onset of the Pandemic (January - March 2020)


The initial global escalation of COVID-19 was characterized by rapid virus spread and the imposition of lockdowns and travel restrictions. Doctors and nurses faced a sudden surge in patients, leading to an overwhelming workload. They had to swiftly adapt to new safety protocols including use of personal protective equipment, which, coupled with unrelenting demands on their time and energy, placed healthcare professionals under significant physical and emotional strain.


Cognitive Load (January - March 2020):

Cognitive Load (January - March 2020): The rise in cognitive load seemed to coincide with healthcare professionals having to rapidly adjust to new safety protocols, a notable increase in new patients, crowded working spaces, and the general pressure of operating in an environment characterized by heightened fear and anxiety.


Analytical Thinking (January - March 2020)

Analytical Thinking (January - March 2020): During this stage, the pandemic appears to have affected doctors and nurses in somewhat distinct ways. The analysis indicates that analytical thinking experienced a notable uptick among doctors, while nurses seemed to witness a potential decline in analytical thinking. It is possible that, as the medical community grappled with unprecedented challenges, the demand for doctors' diagnostic skills and capacity to interpret evolving scientific information may have risen. Meanwhile, although nurses also confronted heightened demands, the nature of their role in patient care during the initial stages of the pandemic might have been less diagnostic and more focused on hands-on care, such as adhering to established care plans and ensuring the implementation of treatment protocols.


Fear (January - March 2020)

Fear (January - March 2020): During this period, it seems that the highest rates of fear were observed across all four years. Uncertainty among both doctors and nurses may have contributed to fears related to virus transmission, symptoms, potential long-term effects, shortages of personal protective equipment, high transmission rates, and the perception of overwhelming workloads.


Empathy (January - March 2020)

Empathy (January - March 2020): The combination of heightened cognitive load and stress suggests a potential depletion of doctors' and nurses' emotional reserves, which may have resulted in a temporary but substantial dip in their capacity for empathy as they grappled with the intensity of their professional responsibilities. It's worth noting that empathy has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels.


Period 2: Vaccination Rollout Begins (January 2021 - June 2021)


The start of vaccine distribution brought a shift in focus from solely managing Covid cases to incorporating mass vaccination efforts. Healthcare professionals juggled responsibilities between administering vaccines, addressing logistical challenges in distribution, and providing continuous care for COVID-19 patients. This period symbolized a crucial step toward gaining control over the pandemic.


Empathy (January - March 2020)

Cognitive Load (January - June 2021): Doctors and nurses appeared to have potentially experienced a continuous increase in cognitive load as they dealt with the ongoing and unrelenting challenges of the pandemic into its second year. They may have been compelled to manage evolving treatment protocols, vaccination campaigns, and contend with the emergence of new variants – all of which could have demanded heightened cognitive efforts, potentially straining their mental resources.


Analytical Thinking (January - June 2021)

Analytical Thinking (January - June 2021): During this period, it appears that analytical thinking may have reached its potentially lowest level of the pandemic for both doctors and nurses. The relentless demands and long-term strain seem to have reached what could be considered a crucial point, but the recovery process also seems to have begun during this period – albeit slowly, taking more than two years to return to what might be near baseline levels.


Stress (January - June 2021)

Stress (January - June 2021): The first half of 2021 appears to have brought a potential increase in stress for healthcare professionals as they navigated the dual challenges of managing the ongoing pandemic and addressing the operational complexities of large-scale vaccination efforts. The demands of patient care, logistical hurdles, and the weight of responsibility might have collectively contributed to an intensification of stress levels.


Stress (January - June 2021)

Empathy (January - June 2021): The heightened workload and stress associated with managing evolving treatment protocols, vaccination campaigns, and the emergence of new variants may have potentially impacted doctors' and nurses' ability to consistently engage in empathetic responses with patients and colleagues. While empathy seemed to recover somewhat from its early drop at the onset of the pandemic, it appears that until cognitive load and stress began to recover, empathy remained in a somewhat depressed state.


Period 3: Recovery and Resilience (January – June 2023)

During January through June 2023, the world saw a continued transition from the acute phase of the pandemic to a more stable post-pandemic environment. Vaccination efforts had made significant progress, leading to a decline in infection rates and a more predictable healthcare landscape. Frontline healthcare workers experienced a shift in their responsibilities, with a decreased emphasis on crisis management and an increased focus on long-term healthcare system adaptation. The period marked a phase of rebuilding and recovery for healthcare professionals, allowing them to address backlogs, integrate lessons learned from the pandemic, and concentrate on the holistic wellbeing of patients. While challenges persisted, there was an overall sense of optimism and adaptability as healthcare systems worked towards resilience and preparedness for potential future health crises.


Analytical Thinking (January - June 2023)

Analytical Thinking (January - June 2023): Doctors and nurses seem to begin experiencing a potential return to what might be considered normal levels of analytical thinking as the healthcare landscape stabilizes. With the lessons learned from previous years and a seemingly more predictable environment, healthcare professionals could engage in more deliberate and comprehensive analytical processes, potentially contributing to effective decision-making and patient care.


Stress (January - June 2023)

Stress (January - June 2023): In the first half of 2023, stress levels appear to be approaching a potential return to normal compared to the heightened stress experienced during the peak of the pandemic. The stabilization of the healthcare system, successful vaccination campaigns, and improved preparedness seem to have contributed to an environment where healthcare professionals might be better able to manage their workloads, potentially leading to decreased stress levels.


Empathy (January - June 2023)

Empathy (January - June 2023): As the healthcare system adapted to post-pandemic conditions, and with a seemingly more stabilized environment, levels of empathy appear to begin a long-awaited return to normal as healthcare professionals once again seem to be able to prioritize patient-centered care, potentially rebuilding and strengthening empathetic connections with patients and colleagues.


Implications:


The trauma healthcare professionals endured has led to longer-term challenges for our healthcare systems, including elevated rates of burnout, stress-related disorders, and mental health challenges within the healthcare system. The result has been, and will continue to be, increased turnover, potential staffing shortages, and concerns about the quality of patient care. In the aftermath and into the future, adequately compensating and addressing the mental health needs of healthcare professionals will remain crucial for both their wellbeing and the resilience of the healthcare system.


The Healthcare Professionals’ Mental Wellbeing Index will be invaluable to researchers seeking to understand and address the long-term implications of the pandemic or any large-scale, sustained, traumatic event on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals, and for developing targeted strategies to mitigate burnout, address stress-related disorders, and enhance overall mental resilience within the healthcare workforce. Additionally, the index can contribute to evidence-based policies and support systems that aim to bolster the mental health of healthcare professionals, ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of healthcare systems in the post-pandemic era.


For more information:


If you’d like more information about the Healthcare Professionals’ Mental Wellbeing dataset, send an email with details of your research interest to healthcarestudy@receptiviti.com.


Please note: We kindly request attribution if you reference the research described in this blog post, as acknowledgment fosters collaboration and integrity in the scientific community.

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