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Journal Article

The impact of reduced working on mental health in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic: results from the Understanding Society COVID-19 study


Publication date

15 May 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated an unpredictable economic crisis, currently affecting daily life for millions of workers. We examined the mental health impact of reduced working in a nationally representative sample of employees.
We used Wave one (April 2020) of the Understanding Society UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) COVID-19 study, with linkage to baseline mental health data from the UKHLS annual survey (January 2017- December 2018). Analysis was based on adults aged 18-65 who were employees in January/February 2020 (n=8,708), with psychological distress assessed using the GHQ-12. Logistic regression examined the mental health impact of reduced working and reasons for the reduction.
Forty two percent of employees reported reduced working by April 2020, with 22% furloughed. There was no evidence of an association between reduced working per se and psychological distress in the fully adjusted model (OR=1.06, 95%CI 0.91-1.23). Those permanently laid-off (less than 1% of employees) were most vulnerable to adverse mental health effects in the early months of the pandemic (OR=3.60, 95%CI 1.55-8.37). We also found evidence of higher levels of psychological distress among those sick or self-isolating, and those with reduced working due to caring responsibilities.
While the GHQ is a widely used and validated instrument in identifying potential psychiatric disorders, it is important to note that it does not represent a clinical assessment.
Longitudinal examination of employment transitions and mental ill-health related to pandemic outcomes is imperative and should help inform public health responses and ongoing government policy in supporting those adversely affected.

Published in

Journal of Affective Disorders

Volume and page numbers

287 , 308 -315





Psychology, Labour Market, Economics, Public Policy, Well Being, Health, and Covid 19


University of Essex, Albert Sloman Library *University of Essex registered users - Campus access*


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