Podcast: COVID-19’s toll on the mental health of doctors in Australia revealed


By Sunalie Silva

19 Apr 2021

A sharp rise in mental health symptoms experienced by doctors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been highlighted in a major survey of Australia’s healthcare workers.

The Australian Frontline Healthcare Workers Study was distributed nationally in September last year at the height of Victoria’s COVID-19 second wave amid nearly four months of strict lockdown, receiving record responses.

Over eight weeks, close to 10,000 healthcare workers participated in the survey – speaking of burnout, feeling unsafe at work, and frustration with misplaced funding and inadequate quick fixes. Detailed responses from senior clinicians, junior doctors, allied health workers and hospital administrators have revealed the magnitude of mental health symptoms experienced throughout the crisis:

More than half of survey respondents had depression, while 70% of participants experienced emotional exhaustion and 41%  experienced post traumatic stress symptoms as picked up through validated mental health scales informing the quantitative part of the survey.

Meanwhile, through more than 20,000 free text responses, the survey lays bare the pre-existing cracks in the system that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Importantly though, the responses also point to long-term solutions.

In this podcast the lead investigators – respiratory physician Associate Professor Natasha Smallwood and health sociologist Professor Karen Willis – talk to the limbic about key findings from their analysis and share what Australia’s healthcare workers say about how inevitable future crises should be handled to protect the mental health of frontline workers.


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