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Employment & Mental Health During The Pandemic


How has COVID-19 affected work in the UK?

Throughout the period of COVID-19 and the job uncertainty that it has unearthed, the ability to retain employment became extremely unstable for many, which has had a devastating impact on the mental health of young people throughout the UK, particularly in London.

With the economy losing stability, rendering many of us unable to work, unemployment, financial concern and a lack of routine have contributed to poor mental health during the pandemic.

We at Claimont Health have looked into the smaller details to find out exactly to what extent the UK has been affected by the instability of working through the pandemic. As employment has taken on a number of different forms for many during the pandemic, we’ve taken a look at the most common roles and responsibilities and how they’ve affected those who’ve taken them on.

Our findings suggest that those who remained in secure, regular employment remained more stable mentally during this time than those who experienced significant change in their working routine – mainly including furlough and job losses. However, our research also found that there were a number of factors that affected the mental health of those still working – from health concerns and loneliness in home-workers to moral stress and worry in key workers.

Concisely, each form of working through the pandemic carried its own unique risk factors in terms of deteriorating mental health, as we will explain below.

How is work good for our mental health?

Studies suggest that generally, employment is beneficial for mental health, and being in a job can also help those who have psychological distress take the first step to recovery.

Having said that, there are a number of attributes involved that need to create the right balance for each individual. A report by The Health Foundation also found that the following factors were essential for mental health in a good quality job:

  • Fair pay and job security
  • Good working conditions
  • A solid work/life balance
  • All necessary training given
  • Progression opportunities

According to the MHF, 70% of UK adults reported unemployment having a negative impact on their mental health, with 45% associating it with loss and 25% with trauma.

Essentially, with the effect COVID-19 has had on employment for adults of working age, it’s fair to immediately suggest that the pandemic effect on mental health has been significant.

Job losses due to COVID-19

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation, 34% of unemployed people generally experience mental distress, in comparison to 16% of those in regular employment. This same study also found that double the amount of people in unemployment (25.85%) were struggling with the pandemic effect on mental health as opposed to those in work (12.25%).

Bar graph showing the changes of mental health in employment levels

The study by the MHF found that a third of full time workers and a fifth of workers overall expressed worries about losing their jobs due to the pandemic. One in ten of those unemployed also said nothing had helped them cope with stress during the pandemic.

Worldwide, it’s estimated by the OECD that around 10 million people became unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail being the worst hit industries. It’s expected that the unemployment rate will remain high well into 2022.

These results are clear-cut in showing that job losses have been a prominent worry – and reality – for many during the pandemic. As the effects of unemployment are predicted to last into the long-term, it’s fair to expect that numbers of people reporting a decline in their mental health will continue to rise significantly as time goes on.

The effects of working from home

According to statistics from the ONS, 46.6% of people in employment worked at home at least partially in April 2020, with 86% of those homeworkers having to do so due to the lockdown.

In terms of mental health, working from home has had a much more divisive impact on the general public. A survey from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found that 45% of people felt working from home had a positive impact on their wellbeing, whereas 29% felt that it was worse for their wellbeing.

There are a number of key factors to take into account when considering positive and negative experiences whilst working from home.

Positive work from home experiences

The option to work from home – more accepted now than ever before – has been taken up in the long term by many of the general public. According to the RSPH poll, 74% of those surveyed wanted to adopt the hybrid working format and split working from home and from the office through the week.

The benefits of home-working were particularly apparent for parents, with 65% of mothers and 60% of fathers choosing to work remotely in order to spend time with their children, according to a study by the University of Kent.

In essence, home-working has opened up a new level of flexibility for those who did not have the option prior to the pandemic. However, as shown in the next paragraph, the possibility of choice is the operative point here.

Negative work from home experiences

Further research from the University of Kent suggested a gender ​​imbalance in terms of burnout, as women (particularly mothers) were more likely to pick up extra shifts and take on excess caring and homeschooling duties throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, limiting their capacity to work to the best of their ability and often inducing more stress through a combination of work and household responsibilities.

The RSPH poll also found that 67% of home workers felt less connected to their colleagues and 56% said they struggled to take themselves out of the working mindset at home. Notably, only 38% of those polled had been offered mental health support from their workplace.

Common concerns from those surveyed who began working from home due to COVID-19 included 46% of people taking less exercise, 39% developing musculoskeletal problems and 37% of people experiencing disturbed sleep. 

All-in-all, health problems, loneliness and a poor work-life balance contributed to poor mental health during the pandemic for home-workers. This could initially be due to a lack of preparation or knowledge on what working from home would have, and having built up a level of resilience over the past 18 months – this should see a steady decline.

Furlough and mental health

The relationship between mental health and the furlough scheme is a complex one. At its peak, 30% of the workforce in the UK had been furloughed.

Stress was initially high when in the early days of the scheme, according to NatSen, who found that worries about job insecurity were almost three times more common with furloughed workers than those at work. They also reported that worries of financial insecurity were twice as likely within furloughed workers, often directly impacting their mental health.

Despite offering a short-term sense of relief and protection during the first wave of the pandemic, it was also suggested that the noticeable difference in pay carried the same financial stresses as low pay in a full-time job.

By April 2021, towards the end of the third wave, tensions were still high for furloughed workers. According to a YouGov poll, half of furloughed workers felt it had a negative impact on their mental health.

Although initially an appealing solution for some working through the pandemic, a lack of perceived job security and worries about finance were common stressors for furloughed workers, leading to a drop in mental wellbeing for many.

Mental health in frontline healthcare workers

Those who remained in full-time work during the pandemic also faced the risk of adverse mental health outcomes.

According to a study by the British Medical Journal, concerns affecting NHS workers’ mental health during the pandemic included a widespread lack of adequate PPE. These worries were initially believed to be based on the fear of infection, but institutional betrayal was eventually discovered to be a key factor.

By definition, institutional betrayal is when trusted authorities act in ways that can cause harm to those dependent on them. It has since been linked to an increase of trauma in healthcare workers.

A similar study, also from the BMJ, has also shown that many in the NHS are also receiving moral injuries. Moral injuries are a type of distress that come from actions violating a person’s moral code. Having felt unprepared for the extent of the challenges faced during the pandemic, many professionals are reported to have moral injuries.

Moral injuries are not mental illnesses in themselves, however they can lead to rumination and thoughts of shame and guilt. These thoughts can then contribute to the development of mental illness including PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation.

Interestingly, this shows that even those in substantial employment were afflicted by poorer mental health during the pandemic. However, due to the distinctive stress factors in working for the NHS during this time – including an unfamiliar, ever-changing work environment, infection fears and burnout from overworking – it’s easy to understand how this has impacted frontline healthcare workers negatively.

Mental health in key workers

Those in non-NHS key worker roles were also hit by the pandemic effect on mental health. Research by Trust For London found that school, nursery, and supermarket staff had mental health concerns driving by the fear of catching the virus throughout the lockdown.

It was found that one in five key workers did not take time off for illness during the first wave, even when unwell, thus adding to excess stress due to overworking. Additionally, supermarket workers reported a significant increase in abuse from the public when working through the pandemic.

During the same study, when asked ‘Have you found it more or less difficult to deal with [maintaining your mental health] as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?’ responses varied depending on the profession;

bar graph of survey results for key worker mental health during covid

As with healthcare workers, the level of exposure to stress, virus fears and abuse from the public that key workers have had when working through the pandemic is self-explanatory. An increase in poor mental health reported a year into the pandemic proves that extra support is needed for those struggling to maintain their wellbeing during, and after, unpredictable times.

London, unemployment and mental health

In October 2021, the Evening Standard reported that unemployment levels in London were at an extreme high of 5.8 per cent – the worst-hit region in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, this follows the 2020 Public Health England research that found London had the worst mental health during the pandemic out of all regions of the country. These figures showed that nearly a quarter of some borough’s populations had been diagnosed with a common mental health disorder (CMD).

At the time, the statistics suggested that nationally, 16.9% of adults over the age of 16 have been diagnosed with a common mental health disorder. Some of the most affected areas in London had levels over 10% higher than this.

Of all the boroughs, Newham had the highest number of people who suffer from CMD (64,544), however, it’s Hackney that has the highest percentage of adults diagnosed with CMD (24.35%).

The level of unemployment contrasted with the highest affected areas in London only further solidifies the link between the two.

Economic loss and mental health

During the pandemic, 44% of unemployed people reported being worried about having enough food to meet their basic needs in the next two weeks – a much higher statistic than the 29.32% of people in employment. The unemployed were the only group for whom this worry did not subside over time.

Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 20 adults reported that they struggled to pay their usual household bills – something that rose to 1 in 10 adults at the end of the first wave of the pandemic in July 2020, according to the ONS.

These same statistics found that 11% of adults in the UK have had to borrow more money or use more credit than usual since the pandemic began, and 28% also reported that they would not be able to afford to pay an unexpected bill of £850 or over.

The pandemic’s effect on mental health in terms of employment is a symptom of another more long-term issue. The connection between poverty and mental health has long been studied, and recent figures have shown that there is a significant link between the two.

For example, those in the lowest 20% of income brackets are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those living in households in the higher brackets.

Financial struggles, often a given when unemployed or facing job loss, can be detrimental to mental health if not resolved in the long-term. These feelings of stress and anxiety can contribute to the development of further mental illnesses.

What can we learn from this?

The link between unemployment and a decline in mental health is evident, and this has only been further exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. Job security has been on the line for many over the last 18 months – with redundancies, furloughed workers and reduced hours becoming all-too commonplace. This opened those affected up to worries about finance, stability and general feelings of stress and worry – all contributing factors in developing mental illness.

Although we know that on the whole, employment can be necessary for maintaining good wellbeing, there are a number of specific factors that contributed to the decline in mental health during the pandemic. For many frontline key workers, fear of illness and feelings of guilt were extremely common, and home-workers were affected by loneliness and a perceived lack of direction.

In short, the pandemic effect on mental health has been devastating for many in a number of different working situations. It’s possible that we may not see the true long-term effects for a few years but it’s essential that the necessary support is given to all affected to prevent further declines.

How can Claimont help?

As throughout the country, mental health treatment is available via the NHS in London. However, according to mental health charity Mind, waiting times for mental health services on the NHS are hard to calculate but waiting times of several months are “known to be commonplace”.

For the best possible outcomes from mental health treatment across England, you should act fast to ensure the condition doesn’t worsen. Doing so allows you to treat your condition quickly and effectively to help you continue to live life as normal. Claimont offer private mental health services in the safety and comfort of your own home, doing so allows us to offer discrete treatment in which our clients feel alleviated from feelings of anxiety and distress.

If left untreated, your mental health condition can become more complex to solve, which can consume more time, effort and money over the long run whilst severely damaging your overall wellbeing.

Claimont Health provides private mental health treatment at home. Ensuring that clients receive the care they need within a comfortable and familiar surrounding. View our mental health services today to see if our team of specialists can help you.