84% of care workers say COVID-19 pandemic led to decline in their mental health


Image of NHS nurse with COVID-19 PPE
Original image: Luke Jones

Almost 9 in 10 frontline care workers attribute a deterioration in their mental health to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.


Exclusively reported by ITV News, the findings come from a survey of 435 care workers in the North East of England by public service trade union body Unison.


The survey found that 84% of care workers said their mental health had declined because of the pandemic –  a figure which Unison says requires a "proper social care strategy" from the government to remedy.


"We’re at a point of crisis," said Unison Regional Secretary, Clare Williams. "The social care system as it’s currently organised isn’t working for the people who need it and that’s all of us and our loved ones at some point in our life.


"Sit down with Unison and others and let’s come up with a proper social care strategy that delivers high quality care and rewards and values the staff who are delivering it."


Reasons given by respondents for their mental health decline include a fear of contracting COVID-19 or passing it onto friends and family; an increased workload; low pay concerns; or seeing people ill and dying from infection with the virus.


Of all respondents, 35% reported having difficulty sleeping; a fifth were experiencing symptoms of anxiety; 14% were experiencing symptoms of depression; and 16% said they were unable to de-stress after finishing their shift.


"There was one stage where we had three ambulances here in one night," one respondent, Tracey White from West Farm Care Home in Newcastle, told ITV News. "We lost three people, basically within hours of each other. November will always have a serious impact on me every year, every year.


"It was the dread of coming to work every morning thinking have we lost somebody else today and when you walked through the door and saw the look on other staff’s faces, you knew somebody else had gone."


Read more: Health workers call for post-pandemic mental support similar to services offered to veterans

In response, the government has insisted that building a care system "fit for the future" is a top priority, with plans to improve social care scheduled to be released later this year.


The Department of Health and Social Care also responded to the findings, highlighting the commitment it has made to improving mental health support for frontline care workers.


"To support social care workers’ wellbeing we have worked with the NHS and other organisations to develop a package of psychological and practical resources, including ‘Our Frontline’, which is a source of information and emotional support," said a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care.


Alongside care workers, other frontline healthcare staff also have seen a decline in their mental health during the pandemic.


In January, research by King's College London found that almost half of intensive care workers met the threshold for at least one of severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe anxiety, or problem drinking.


Recently, a group of 13 healthcare bodies, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Medical Association, called for the government to offer support services for health staff similar to those offered to war veterans.


“There are key similarities in terms of the exposure to trauma and risk to psychological and physical health and we have much to learn from the veterans’ mental health services," the letter signed by all 13 organisations states.


“We hope the Government will take inspiration from this when designing services for NHS staff severely impacted by their work during the pandemic."


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health