PH WINS Reveals Rising Stress and Burnout in Public Health

More than half of America’s public health workers report at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey of nearly 45,000 employees in state and local government public health departments.

The Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS), conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and ASTHO, now in its third iteration, reports that COVID has taken a toll on public health workers. Two years of pandemic response has contributed to increased stress and burnout, as well as post-traumatic stress symptoms. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a high level of intent to leave among public health workers, many of whom have faced threats and harassment from officials and community members opposing guidance on pandemic mitigation efforts such as masking, social distancing, and vaccination. 

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The study’s finding of intent to leave is worrying because it could threaten the health and well-being of communities for years to come. Key findings of the report include:

  • PTSD and Mental Health:

More than half of public health workers (56%) report symptoms of post-traumatic stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, with 1 in 5 employees describing their mental health as either fair or poor.

  • Harassment:

Many public health workers, especially executives, report bullying, threats, and harassment. Nearly than 2 in 5 executives (41%) agreed with the statement “I have felt bullied, threatened, or harassed by individuals outside of the health department.”

  • Intent to Leave:

Nearly than one-third of the public health workforce is considering leaving their job. Among those who said they’re thinking about leaving in the next year, 39% said the pandemic contributed to their decision.

Previously conducted in 2014 and 2017, PH WINS is the only nationally representative survey of state and local government public health employees. The full PH WINS report will be released in the summer of 2022. Download the PHWINS Infographic _ Stress and Burnout in Public Health.