Mental health challenges continue for radiologists during pandemic

Radiologists can prioritize resilience, address fear and promote self-care to help address rising symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia.

By | 1 minute read | October 9, 2020

References:

Pandemics take a toll on mental health. One study of evidence from previous epidemics – such as SARS, influenza and Ebola – found that they have long-term cognitive and mental health effects on the general population.1

Then I read a study that hit closer to home for me, as a radiologist; during the COVID-19 outbreak, a survey in April of 2020 found that one-third of radiologists showed symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia.2 Radiologists working in private practices were more strongly affected than those in public hospitals. Authors of the study suggest that these radiologists were more likely to have insufficient equipment, a lesser feeling of usefulness and a feeling of isolation.3

Mental health challenges are, unfortunately, nothing new for our profession. Depression and burnout have been documented well before COVID-19 struck. For example, a survey of radiologists in December 2018 found that 29% of radiologists met all three criteria for high burnout, including high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization and low personal accomplishment, and 79% had one or more symptoms of burnout.4

Significant changes in radiology have strained mental health, as many radiologists have gone from “burned out to benched” in response to dwindling workloads. As the pandemic forced delays or cancelation of screenings and elective procedures, outpatient radiology volume dipped dramatically by an estimated 50-70%.5 Although more study is needed, I’ve seen early signs that volumes are once again on the rise. Radiologist teams that may have experienced reductions in workforce to mirror falling volumes are now faced with increasing workloads.

So, unfortunately, challenges in our discipline will likely continue. What are some ways organizations can help protect mental health of their clinicians and teammates?

Learnings from previous pandemics tell us that it’s important to take proactive steps to minimize detrimental effects during the COVID-19 pandemic.6 My colleague Dr. William J. Kassler described some of the best ways organizations can protect mental health during the pandemic, such as prioritizing resilience, addressing fear and promoting self-care. Organizations should also facilitate improvements to the radiologist’s workload with tools that foster collaboration, access and insights. Mental health is incredibly important, and I’d encourage my colleagues to make it a priority.

Read more about Missed findings: One symptom of burnout in radiology

References:
  1. Shah K, Kamrai D, Mekala H, Mann B, Desai K, Patel RS. Focus on Mental Health During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Applying Learnings from the Past Outbreaks. Cureus. 2020;12(3):e7405. Published 2020 Mar 25. doi:10.7759/cureus.7405 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7182052/
  2. M. Florina, et al. Socio-economic and psychological impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on private practice and public hospital radiologists. European Journal of Radiology. Vol 132, Nov. 2020, 109285. (available online Sept. 2020) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejrad.2020.109285
  3. Ibid
  4. D Ganeshan, MD, et al. Burnout in Academic Radiologists in the United States. Radiology Research Alliance. Vol 27 Issue 9, pp1274-1281, Feb. 2020 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acra.2019.12.029
  5. Cavallo JJ, Forman HP. The Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Radiology Practices. Radiology. 2020;296(3):E141-E144. doi:10.1148/radiol.2020201495
  6. Shah K, Kamrai D, Mekala H, Mann B, Desai K, Patel RS. Focus on Mental Health During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Applying Learnings from the Past Outbreaks. Cureus. 2020;12(3):e7405. Published 2020 Mar 25. doi:10.7759/cureus.7405 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7182052/

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