CDC New Study Highlights US Public Health Workers Feeling Threatened during COVID-19 Pandemic

A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine documents the record levels of nonphysical violence directed at public health workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response and the impact of the public anger and aggression on these workers’ mental health. While the pandemic’s effects on healthcare and other frontline workers are well documented, this study is one of the first to explore its impact on the public health workforce, an occupation that has not historically been at risk for workplace violence.

Study findings show that nearly one in three of these essential public health workers experienced at least one form of workplace violence — including receiving job threats or being bullied, harassed, or stigmatized — in the course of their work to inform and protect the public. The study also found that workplace violence was associated with a 21% greater risk of reporting depression or anxiety, a 31% greater risk of reporting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a 26% greater risk of reporting suicidal thoughts, even after controlling for illness including COVID-19, losing a family member to COVID-19, and other stress-producing factors during this crisis. The more workplace violence they experienced, the greater the impact on their mental health, which is detrimental to both the individuals and the communities they serve.

Several work factors were associated with increasing workplace violence, such as increasing hours worked per week and increasing interaction with the public.