Tweet All About It

In 2020, 87% of emergency physicians reported increased feelings of stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many took to social media to express their concerns (and perhaps cope).

Line graph depicting physicians' positive and negative language sentiment on social media across phases of the COVID-19 pandemic

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During the COVID-19 lockdowns, as isolation and fear took their toll, healthcare workers kept going. As the pandemic continued, the critical nature of the care provided in emergency departments, combined with the chaotic environment of hospital settings, impacted the well-being of emergency medicine physicians. A survey conducted in October 2020 found that 87% of emergency physicians reported increased feelings of stress brought on by the pandemic. Many turned to social media to voice their concerns, or perhaps used it as a way to cope and find connection.

Researcher Anish Agarwal and colleagues analyzed public Twitter posts from emergency medicine physicians to investigate the shifts in content and language that might indicate changes in emotional well-being. The researchers identified thematic content posted pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. The top themes shifted from posts concerning free open-access medical education, gun violence, quality improvement in health care, and resident professional society before March 2020 to posts concerning healthy behaviors during COVID-19, pandemic response, vaccines and vaccinations, unstable housing and homelessness, and emotional support for others. As shown in the figure above, the most significant increase in negative language use–terms of anxiety, anger, and depression–occurred in the early months of the pandemic.

Among emergency physicians, expressions of loneliness had the most significant increase throughout the study period. The researchers note that increasing loneliness matches similar increases also observed in the general population. Severe and persistent loneliness is associated with negative physical and mental health impacts, including depression, substance use, and suicidality.

During the COVID-19 pandemic emergency physicians’ social media also followed national trends taking up social issues, including gun violence, racism, and health equity. Meanwhile, these physicians experienced an onslaught of very ill patients, as they ran low on protective equipment and fought burn-out for years.

Databyte via Anish Agarwal, Juhi Mittal, Annie Tran, et al. Investigating Social Media to Evaluate Emergency Medicine Physicians’ Emotional Well-being During COVID-19. JAMA Network Open, 2023.