Psychological Responses to Coronavirus Disease 2019 amongst Healthcare Workers in South Africa during the Pandemic

Kathryn Nel1, Indiran Govender2, *, Mathews Katjene3, Saraswathie Govender4, Thembinkosi Mabila4
1 Department of Research, University of Limpopo, Limpopo, South Africa
2 Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Ga-Rankuwa, South Africa
3 Department of Psychology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
4 Department of Psychology, University of Limpopo, Limpopo, South Africa

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© 2023 Nel et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Ga-Rankuwa, South Africa; E-mail:



It is important to understand HCWs’ (healthcare workers) psychological responses to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as they are exposed to the virus on a daily basis. This study helps identify some of the challenges they face.


The overall aim of the study was to investigate psychological responses to COVID-19, including vaccinations and stressors, amongst healthcare HCWs in South Africa during the pandemic.


HCWs who worked in private and state hospitals and private practice in Tshwane, South Africa.


A quantitative approach using a cross-sectional survey design was used. Several standardised and validated questionnaires were used in the survey including the Coronavirus-19 Fear Scale, the COVID-19-related stigma scale and the COVID-19 stress scale. A purposive sample (N=103) was analysed using descriptive statistics and chi-square.


There were 103 completed questionnaires. Many (76% and 54%) either knew someone close who contracted COVID or died from COVID-19, respectively. Most (58%) were in favour of being vaccinated. A significant proportion (42%; p= 0.009) of the HCWs felt uncomfortable when thinking about COVID. Physical reactions such as sweating, or a pounding heart were reported by 17% of the HCWs. A majority of the HCWs disagreed with any form of stigmatization of COVID-19. Most of the HCWs expressed a need for mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic. About three-quarters of the respondents expressed a need to talk to someone about their worries about COVID-19.


Most of the respondents either knew someone who either contracted COVID-19 or died because of it. Many experienced anxiety symptoms when thinking about COVID-19. Many HCWs reported anxiety and stress symptoms such as insomnia, palpitations, sweating and difficulty concentrating. An overwhelming majority of the HCWs stated that people should not be discriminated against or stigmatized in any way because of COVID-19. The majority of the HCWs expressed a need for psychological support during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 20% of the HCWs were against being vaccinated. This is worrisome as they are at high risk. The HCWs clearly expressed a need for more attention and support towards their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Psychological responses, COVID-19 pandemic, Mental health, Healthcare workers, Virus, Anxiety symptoms.