J Korean Med Sci.  2020 Oct;35(41):e372. 10.3346/jkms.2020.35.e372.

COVID-19 Outbreak and Its Association with Healthcare Workers' Emotional Stress: a Cross-Sectional Study

  • 1Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Yeungnam University Hospital, Daegu, Korea
  • 2Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, College of Medicine, Yeungnam University, Daegu, Korea
  • 3Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Kyungpook National University Hospital, Daegu, Korea


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has exposed healthcare workers to extreme physical workloads and psychological challenges. Thus, we aimed to assess the immediate correlates of emotional stress and to identify which specific jobs, departments, and exposure types are risk factors for emotional stress in healthcare workers.
In this cross-sectional study conducted from April 2 to 10, 2020, university hospital workers were administered self-reported questionnaires that covered general characteristics and included the Patient Health Questionnaire, Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale, and a visual analog scale. At-risk groups for depression and anxiety were identified, and the odds ratios for depression and anxiety were analyzed after adjusting for age, gender, education, marital status, and duration of employment.
The data of 1,003 participants were analyzed. Of these, 14.2% worked in wards for confirmed COVID-19 cases and 15.2% had had direct contact with these patients. Treating patients with COVID-19 was associated with depression and anxiety, while dealing with COVID-19 test samples was associated with depression. Exposure to random or unspecified patients was also associated with depression. Lastly, social rejection and other negative experiences were associated with depression and anxiety.
The COVID-19 outbreak is correlated with healthcare workers' emotional stress, and specific types of jobs and duties involving close contact with these patients can be risk factors. Interestingly, even low-exposure groups reported significant depression and anxiety as a result of social stigma and uncertainty. Adequate and timely management measures for emotional stress are required for vulnerable and at-risk groups.


COVID-19; Daegu; PHQ-9; GAD-7
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