October 23, 2020

School of Medicine students conceptualize study of pandemic’s impact on essential worker mental health

Medical students in the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Class of 2022 are the minds behind a new study inspecting the mental health of health care workers during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Detroit area.

Third-year students Sydney Daviskiba and Megan MacKenzie created a survey using standardized scales for stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that asked a variety of questions about clinical experiences, and provided the opportunity for participants to give open-ended accounts of their experiences as frontline health care workers during the pandemic.

“After seeing numerous news articles and pleas from health care workers on social media, my roommate Megan MacKenzie approached me in the earliest days of the pandemic with a shared concern of the effect of COVID-19 on health care worker mental health,” Daviskiba said. “We hoped that in attempting to clarify the issue we could call attention to the adverse psychiatric impact of COVID-19 on frontline workers and eventually advocate for resources for their well-being.”

The students connected with Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Professor Cynthia Arfken, Ph.D.; Professor Richard Balon, M.D.; and Associate Professor Arash Javanbakht, M.D., who helped bring the idea to life and get the project running.

“Rapid Assessment of Mental Health of Detroit-area Health Care Workers During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic” is in press in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry.

Through a cross-sectional study conducted via an online survey, the students surveyed Detroit-area health care workers for various symptoms of mental illness, including levels of anxiety, depression and traumatic stress. They also explored health care workers’ perceptions of adequacy of personal protective equipment, patient resources and sources of stress.

“In our sample, we found elevated levels of traumatic stress symptoms and significantly elevated anxiety and depression,” MacKenzie said.

The students worked closely together to complete preliminary research, develop the survey used to gather data, and assist in its distribution. The manuscript was written by Daviskiba and Mackenzie with guidance from Drs. Arfken, Balon and Javanbakht.

“It is very exciting to have our paper getting published, not only for ourselves, but to see that the topic of mental health is getting the attention that it deserves during a time like this,” Daviskiba said. “We hope that this can be a step in the right direction to assure that health care workers are getting the necessary resources to preserve their well-being, both physically and mentally.”