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Moral Distress and Perceived Community Views are Associated with Mental Health Symptoms in Frontline Health Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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journal contribution
posted on 22.09.2021, 00:59 by N Smallwood, Amy PascoeAmy Pascoe, Leila KarimiLeila Karimi, Karen WillisKaren Willis

Background: Sudden changes in clinical practice and the altered ability to care for patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been associated with moral distress and mental health concerns in healthcare workers internationally. This study aimed to investigate the severity, prevalence, and predictors of moral distress experienced by Australian healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: A nationwide, voluntary, anonymous, single time-point, online survey of self-identified frontline healthcare workers was conducted between 27th August and 23rd October 2020. Participants were recruited through health organisations, professional associations, or colleges, universities, government contacts, and national media. Results: 7846 complete responses were received from nurses (39.4%), doctors (31.1%), allied health staff (16.7%), or other roles (6.7%). Many participants reported moral distress related to resource scarcity (58.3%), wearing PPE (31.7%) limiting their ability to care for patients, exclusion of family going against their values (60.2%), and fear of letting co-workers down if they were infected (55.0%). Many personal and workplace predictors of moral distress were identified, with those working in certain frontline areas, metropolitan locations, and with prior mental health diagnoses at particular risk of distress. Moral distress was associated with increased risk of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and burnout. Conversely, feeling appreciated by the community protected against these risks in healthcare workers. Conclusions: Safeguarding healthcare workforces during crises is important for both patient safety and workforce longevity. Targeted interventions are required to prevent or minimise moral distress and associated mental health concerns in healthcare workers during COVID-19 and other crises.


The Royal Melbourne Hospital Foundation and the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation kindly provided financial support for this study. Funding bodies had no role in the research activity. All authors were independent from the funders and had access to the study data.


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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health





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