Research suggests that healthcare professionals are more likely to be exposed to work-related stress from long working hours, night work or shift work and can often experience sleep disruption, potentially leading to burnout, depression, anxiety and sleep disorder, for up to 40% of healthcare staff. 

In fact, the higher risk professions such as nurses, midwives, welfare and caregivers, recorded significant increases in psychotropic medication use for mental health problems, with social care workers recording exceptionally high levels of psychiatric medication. Overall, it may be more stressful to work in the Health and Social Care sector than other jobs.

With the help of anonymised data, researchers have also found that carers from socially deprived backgrounds are at a higher risk of mental ill-health. But it’s not just symptomatic of those working in the sector. Informal caregivers, or people who care for family member or friends for free, also have increased risk of mental health problems due to the challenges of caring.

Professor Gerry Leavey, Deputy Director of the Administrative Data Research Centre in Northern Ireland (ADR-NI) commented

Our society has to pay more attention to the needs of our health and social care professionals. With the help of administrative data this study reinforces the evidence that workers in health care are under considerable stress, and not enough is done to mitigate the challenges of working in this sector. The burden created by the pandemic on the NHS and care homes can only have added to these strains. Perhaps our caring professions need more than well-meaning applause.”

This research, led by Dr Emma Curran at Ulster University and co-authors Dr Finola Ferry, Dr Michael Rosato and Professor Gerry Leavey, is an important demonstration in the use of administrative data and the value it brings to gaining a much deeper understanding of such issues.

Health and Social Care is a sector that has received a lot of attention from both government and the media both before the COVID-19 pandemic when these occupations were already stressful, and even more so since as the pandemic setting has certainly added to this burden on medical and social care staff who are seen as particularly vulnerable.

The research doesn’t end here. For Emma and her team, the next stage is to delve even deeper into similar health issues experienced by Health and Social Care professionals by adding data collected from the 2021 census. The team will also examine how the pandemic has impacted mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, on both the general population and other sectors of employment.

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Dr Emma Curran

Dr Emma Curran

Emma is a Research Fellow at the Bamford Centre for Mental health and Wellbeing; Ulster University; NI. Working with a range of academics on initiatives related to improving healthcare pathways; epidemiology and health inequalities – Emma’s research relates to public health issues: examining childhood adversity, mental health, suicide and help seeking; multi-morbidity, mental health prescribing and mortality; variation in mental ill-health across occupation types; and co-supervisor with a PhD Fellowship – a study on childhood injuries and adolescent mental health. Emma’s role is to promote and develop the use of administrative data sources, as part of the ESRC ADRC initiative: she assists researchers through advisory work on capacity and through participation in projects and research. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Emma-Curran