Original Research

Mental health patterns of physiotherapists in South Africa during COVID-19

Nabeelah Bemath, Nicky Israel, Tasneem Hassem
South African Journal of Physiotherapy | Vol 79, No 1 | a1881 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajp.v79i1.1881 | © 2023 Nabeelah Bemath, Nicky Israel, Tasneem Hassem | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 February 2023 | Published: 06 July 2023

About the author(s)

Nabeelah Bemath, School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nicky Israel, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tasneem Hassem, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract

Background: While attention has been drawn to the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the mental health of healthcare workers generally, little is known regarding mental health changes over time in frontline and non-frontline physiotherapists during this period.

Objectives: Our study aimed to investigate differences in mental health trends among frontline and non-frontline physiotherapists across three time periods during the pandemic.

Method: Survey-based data were collected from 366 practising physiotherapists across three time periods during the pandemic (Time 1: n = 171; Time 2: n = 101; Time 3: n = 94). Variations in reported mental health of frontline and non-frontline respondents generally and over time were analysed using comparative statistical techniques and trend analysis.

Results: Frontline physiotherapists reported significantly lower levels of general mental well-being and resilience, and significantly higher levels of burnout and maladaptive strategy use. Only frontline physiotherapists’ general mental well-being and resilience decreased over time, whereas depression decreased over time for both groups. Anxiety decreased over time for non-frontline physiotherapists but initially decreased and then increased for frontline physiotherapists. Burnout increased initially and then decreased for non-frontline physiotherapists.

Conclusion: Varying mental health trends were found between frontline and non-frontline physiotherapists over time. Nuanced mental health interventions that consider the period of the pandemic and degree of exposure are needed.

Clinical implications: Understandings of the mental health trajectories experienced by physiotherapists across the pandemic can inform long-term, targeted interventions that effectively enhance well-being, retention, and sustainability of practitioners, and thus the care delivered, in the healthcare system.


Keywords

mental health; COVID-19; frontline; physiotherapists; trend analysis

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