Public health workers face workplace violence ‘harmful’ to mental health

November 21, 2022

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According to researchers, one-third of public health workers have experienced some form of workplace violence, which has affected their mental health.

Hope M. Tiesman, PhD, A research epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and colleagues wrote that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health workers (PHWs) were at greater risk for violence and harassment because of their public health work and Had experienced an adverse mental health condition.”


Data derived from: Tiesman HM, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2022;10.1016/J.AMEPR.2022.10.004.

“PHWs play an important role in public health emergencies, but there is little research on how these emergencies affect their mental health,” they wrote. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,

Researchers conducted an online survey in April 2021 to better understand the prevalence of harassment, job-related threats and discrimination against PHWs during the pandemic and how they affected mental health.

A non-probability convenience sample of local, tribal and state PHWs completed a self-administered survey, answering questions about workplace violence (WPV) demographics, mental health symptoms and workplace factors.

Of the 26,174 PHWs who responded to the survey, Tiesman and colleagues found that 35% dealt with at least one form or a combination of forms of WPV. Furthermore, “that violence was associated with detrimental effects on the mental health of PHWs.”

More specifically, 26% (n = 5,962) experienced stigma because of their public health work, 24% (n = 5,350) were bullied or harassed and 12% (n = 2,688) experienced job-related threats found, according to the researchers.

The more work someone did, the more likely they were to encounter WPV (<20 घंटे, 16%; 20-40 घंटे, 25%; 41-60 घंटे, 41%; 61-75 घंटे, 52%;> 75 hours, 61%). The researchers noted that “the same trend was observed for degree of public interaction” (“little” interaction, 22%; “some,” 31%; “much,” 46%).

Even after adjusting for co-founders, the researchers found that experiencing any type of WPV was significantly associated with a greater likelihood of reporting:

  • symptoms of depression (prevalence ratio [PR] = 1.95, 95% CI, 1.87–2.03);
  • anxiety (PR = 1.87; 95% CI, 1.80–1.94);
  • PTSD (PR = 2.0′ 95% CI, 1.93–2.07); And
  • suicidal thoughts (PR = 1.99; 95% CI, 1.83–2.18).

Additionally, Tijsman and colleagues noted that “a dose-response relationship was found between the number of WPV events experienced by a PHW and the likelihood of reporting mental health symptoms.”

For example, they wrote, “The proportion of PHWs reporting symptoms of depression was 1.7 times higher if they experienced one type of WPV, 2 times for two types, and 2.4 times higher if they experienced all three types of WPV.” felt. “

The researchers write that “ongoing training, workplace support, and increased communication following a WPV incident may be helpful” and that “efforts to strengthen public health capacities and support public health workers are also needed.”

“Any WPV directed at PHWs during a public health emergency is harmful to them, as well as the communities they serve. WPV against PHWs is an alarming consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they concluded. “Efforts must be made to protect and support current public health workers.”

Additionally, the researchers noted that “increasing workplace communication following a WPV incident is also important and may protect PHWs from adverse mental health outcomes.”

If an incident occurs, he wrote, workers “should report the incident to a designated official in their organization including the frequency of the violence and other details surrounding the incident.” This way, “supervisors can make informed decisions about work location, task, and shift changes to reduce the likelihood of another WPV incident.”

“Experiencing multiple WPV events has a cumulative effect on adverse mental health symptoms and may lead to increased turnover, burnout, and decreased job satisfaction,” Tijsman and colleagues wrote. “Most important, supervisors and public health agencies need to contact law enforcement immediately if the lives or families of PHWs are at risk.”

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