This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Cherry N, Adisesh A, Burstyn I, Durand-Moreau Q, Galarneau JM, Labrèche F, Ruzycki S, Zadunayski T. Work characteristics, workplace support and mental ill-health in a Canadian cohort of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. J Occup Environ Med. 2024 February 27. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000003074

The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

A CITF-funded study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that healthcare workers (HCWs) assisting patients with COVID-19 exhibited clinically significant scores for anxiety and depression and were more likely to report the use of sleep medications, compared to pre-pandemic. This study was led by Dr. Nicola Cherry (University of Alberta).

A cohort of 4,854 HCWs was recruited around the beginning of the pandemic and followed for 24 months. Each participant completed an online questionnaire at four points:

  • Spring/Summer 2020 (Phase 1)
  • Fall 2020 (Phase 2)
  • Spring 2021 (Phase 3)
  • Spring/Summer 2022 (Phase 4)

Demographic data included age, gender, and professional role. The primary outcome variable was the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) score – a score of 11 or above indicated cases of depression or anxiety. The secondary outcome variable was the use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, as well as sleep/anxiety medications. Factors reflecting work conditions were also assessed such as the type of HCW, whether they worked with COVID-19 infected patients, and the level of professional support available.

Key findings:

  • Overall, 26.3% of the participants exhibited clinically significant HADS anxiety scores, while 9.9% had high HADS depression scores.
  • The use of alcohol, sleep, and anxiety medication by HCWs increased compared to pre-pandemic levels for 21.6%, 15.2%, and 7.3% of participants, respectively.
  • Cases of anxiety and depression, along with use of sleep medications, were higher during periods of work with patients with COVID-19.
  • Participants perceived there to be a lack of support from senior colleagues or mentors, their immediate employers, provincial health services, and/or the provincial chief medical officer of health.
  • Reported availability of online support groups improved the perception of available support.

With this study, the researchers aimed to identify the determinants of mental health in Canadian HCWs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their recruited cohort was set up early in the pandemic and had good retention over the 24-month follow-up period. The data were all self-reported but still allowed for a prospective look at changes during the pandemic. Given that working with infected patients during a pandemic may carry unavoidable stresses, this study suggests that effects on mental health and on retention may be mitigated by improving workplace supports.