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While all workers across Canada and around the world are being affected by COVID-19, health-care workers as a group are most heavily feeling its impact. This is because of their pivotal role in the treatment of people infected with the virus and their high COVID-19 exposure as part of their job. As such, maximizing efforts to enable the health-care workforce to remain free of COVID-19 infection, and stay in good physical and mental health, is essential to the response and management of COVID-19.

Including mental health in these efforts is important. Consider the situation of many health-care workers during the pandemic: their increased workload, the moral dilemmas they may face when providing patient care, their heightened personal exposure to COVID-19 infection, and their associated worries about infecting family and household members. It’s no surprise that previous studies have shown increases in mental health symptoms among health-care workers during disease outbreaks and pandemics.

It is also important to identify workplace factors linked to mental health that can be changed. While personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection control procedures are often discussed as measures to reduce virus transmission, we also need to understand their importance in the context of mental health, especially since the mental health impacts of COVID-19 may linger beyond the pandemic.

Our team of work and health researchers recently examined the association between the perceived adequacy of PPE and infection control procedures, and symptoms of anxiety and depression among health-care workers. As reported in our paper in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, we found greater levels of mental health symptoms among workers who indicated their needs for PPE and infection control procedures were not met.

Assessing mental health and protection measures

About 6,000 health-care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and other community care