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

Ruzycki S, Adisesh A, Burstyn I, Durand-Moreau Q, Labreche F, Zadunayski T, Cherry N. Availability, use, and impact of workplace mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic in a Canadian cohort of healthcare workers. medRxiv 2023.12.12.23299862; doi:

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

A CITF-funded study, published as a preprint and not yet peer-reviewed, found that healthcare workers (HCWs) reported increasing availability and use of mental health support as the pandemic progressed. However, one in four of those experiencing mental health problems, such as anxiety and particularly depression, did not seek support. The study was led by Dr. Nicola Cherry (University of Alberta).

The study recruited 4,964 healthcare workers (HCWs) who completed questionnaires in English or French in the spring/summer of 2020 (Phase 1), the late fall of 2020 (Phase 2), the spring of 2021 (Phase 3) and the spring/summer of 2022 (Phase 4) and reported the availability and use of mental health supports. At recruitment (April-October 2020), HCWs reported on their pre-pandemic mental health. All participants completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) at each contact. Availability and use of supports were examined by pandemic phase, workplace, and work role. For use, gender, age, and pre-pandemic and current mental health were examined. The impact was assessed as mental health in 2021/2022 following use in 2020.

Key findings:

  • Of the 4,964 HCWs recruited for the study, 4,400 working with patients reported the availability of workplace mental health support on at least one questionnaire. The majority identified as female, with nurses as the largest professional group.
  • Access to mental health supports increased during the pandemic, with 94% reporting access to some workplace support from 2020 through 2022.
  • More than 20% of HCWs recruited for the study reported having been treated for anxiety or depression in the 12 months before the start of the pandemic. Those with a history of pre-pandemic or current mental ill-health at the start of the study formed the majority of HCWs using mental health supports during the pandemic. 25% of those with high HADS scores did not use support, with depressed males least likely to report use.
  • Stratification by gender suggested that older female HCWs with anxiety or depression were less likely than the younger ones to use support, while among non-female identifying HCWs, older workers were more likely to report use.
  • Half the HCWs (51%) had at least one clinically significant HADS score suggesting a case of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.
  • The proportion with high anxiety scores decreased from 29% to 24% as the pandemic progressed, while proportions with high depression scores remained close to 10%.
  • HCWs using an Employment Assistance Program at the second contact had lower HADS scores at next follow-up but this was not sustained.

Overall, a great majority of HCWs reported access to some mental health support through their employment with an increase in reported access and use as the pandemic progressed.