‘Majority’ of UK junior doctors experienced severe depression, anxiety or stress during pandemic

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Poor working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic were factors in nearly half of junior doctors reporting symptoms of extremely severe depression, according to a new study led by the University of Surrey.

The study found that 70% of respondents reported feeling severe or extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety or stress symptoms while they were helping the NHS tackle the global incident.

The survey was delivered between March 2020 and January 2021—a time when the U.K. experienced peak infection rates during the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

Dr. Ruth Riley, project lead from the University of Surrey, said, “The country asked a lot from all medical professionals and other frontline staff during the initial outbreak of COVID-19. Our study highlights that the additional challenges and emotional burdens linked to working during the pandemic are likely to have exacerbated the mental health challenges and stress levels experienced by doctors.

“We also found an imbalance with female junior doctors reporting higher levels of anxiety compared to their male counterparts, a result that may be explained by factors such as poorer work-life balance. Our team also found that ethnicity played a part in these results, with doctors from Asian backgrounds reporting higher levels of negative emotions than their counterparts.”

The research, which surveyed 456 junior doctors, spotlighted strained relationships within the workplace and high workloads as the most consistent sources of their depression, anxiety or stress.

The study also pinpointed toxic work cultures—for example, bullying and discrimination—as another precursor for extremely negative feelings.

Dr. Kevin Teoh, from Birkbeck, University of London, who was involved in analyzing the data, said, “We found a clear link between junior doctors’ working conditions and their mental health. It highlights the urgent need to address and improve the working conditions of junior doctors in the NHS. Focusing on individual interventions like resilience training and counseling simply is not enough to retain our doctors and build a healthy and sustainable workforce.”

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