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June 2023 Occupational Health Watch

How COVID-19 affected Workers' Mental Health—New Publication

The COVID-19 pandemic put many workers in vulnerable situations, faced with burdens such as illness, job loss, and reduced income. Public health measures like quarantine and social distancing left workers feeling lonely and isolated, impacting their mental health.

Poor mental health is associated with prevalent chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Poor mental health is also an economic concern, associated with disability, lost productivity, absenteeism, and unemployment.

A recently published article analyzed California Health Interview Survey data from 2013 to 2020. Researchers found higher levels of depressed mood and/or increases in suicidal ideation among younger and older workers, women, people with low incomes, and those who reported job loss. Specifically, in 2020 there was a high prevalence of depressed mood among workers: Line worker graphic

  • Ages 18-29 years
  • Women
  • With incomes between $20,000–$39,999​

The increase in the prevalence of suicidal ideation in the past year among workers that have ever thought of suicide was 86% greater than expected among production workers and 47% greater than expected among service workers. Moreover, production workers and sales workers had a 46% and 37% greater than expected increase in the prevalence of depressed mood respectively since the start of the pandemic.

The results highlight ongoing concerns temporally related to the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrate the need to preserve and improve the mental health of the workforce. Employers of these priority occupation groups can consider the following mental health interventions:

  • Educating about the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation for workers,
  • Providing resources, including employee assistance programs offering counseling and referrals to mental health services, and
  • Incorporating policy considerations like flexible work scheduling, adequate paid leave, comprehensive insurance coverage for behavioral health conditions, and expanded access to telehealth services​

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