Insomnia, Depression, and Anxiety Plague One-Third of Radiologists During COVID-19

September 16, 2020
Whitney J. Palmer

Providers from all care environments report some level of mental health impact during the pandemic.

Radiologists are still struggling in personal ways with the impacts of COVID-19. For many, this means not only are they having more trouble sleeping, but they are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression.

In a new study published in the Sept. 15 European Journal of Radiology, investigators from France highlighted the mental health challenges providers are facing, as well as the factors that are contributing the most to the problems. From what they discovered, working in a public hospital can protect radiologists, but limited educational opportunities, personal medical histories, and being in a high-density work environment pulls them in the other direction.

“Given that radiologists are a population at risk to develop stress at work, as has been demonstrated in several studies,” said the team led by Marin Florin, M.D., a radiologist with the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, “our findings would drive to implement protective measures.”

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Overall, the team determined that more than one-third of providers have struggled with these challenges. In particular, the team pointed out, private-practice radiologists with personal histories of respiratory problems who work in high COVID-19 areas and manage COVID-19-positive patients are at the greatest risk, and they should be monitored closely.

The researchers reached these conclusions by conducting an anonymous survey with 1,515 radiologists between April 10 and April 19 of this year. Participants were from five different radiological societies that represent residents and board-certified radiologists from both academic and non-academic public hospitals.

Based on respondent answers, 40.9 percent of radiologists reported experiencing insomnia, 35 percent had symptoms of anxiety, and 30.6 percent struggled with depression. Between approximately 12 percent and 15 percent of these cases were self-reported as being clinically significant.

And, although these problems affected providers in all working environments, those who work in private practices faced higher levels of insomnia and depression. It is possible, the team said, that these providers were more heavily impacted because they experienced the biggest drops in workload – more than 75 percent saw a drop in activity. Worries about potential practice closures could also fuel these challenges, the team added, along with several other concerns.

“This difference between radiologists in hospitals and private practices can also be explained by the insufficient equipment, lesser feeling of usefulness (though not statistically significant), and a feeling of isolation,” the team explained, noting that 43 percent of private practice radiologists had no contact with co-workers.

Conversely, the team noted, the protective effective of working in a public hospital could stem from those providers feeling a greater sense of usefulness to the patient population. Such a feeling can work as a mental health reward.

“The societal praise of care work provided by hospital workers appears as a possible short-term protective factor,” Florin’s team said. “Working in a public hospital may also have resulted in more frequent opportunities for radiologists to receive logistic support from their institution, as well as psychological support from their colleagues and/or dedicated services.”

It is important to note, the team added, that radiologists already struggle with high levels of burnout – the specialty most recently ranked as 7th for burnout in 2015. This underlying current of frustration and fatigue could be a significant contributing factor to these reported problems during the pandemic.

“One should, therefore, interpret psychological symptoms measured in the context of the COVID-19 in the light of these pre-existing levels of psychological symptoms,” the team explained.