Natalie Safo: Article Presentation

First-semester undergraduate lab member, Natalie Safo, recently gave an astute presentation on an article titled “The Importance of Employment to Workers with Pre-existing Behavioral Health Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic” (Cook et al., 2022).

During the pandemic, a relationship between job loss and poor mental health was discovered. Previous studies demonstrated that those with pre-existing mental health issues are expected to experience a greater chance of instability, unemployment, reduced hours, and economic uncertainty. Those who were unemployed exhibited higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, stress-related disorders, and suicidal ideation than those who are employed. However, those who were employed as peer support specialists experienced feelings of isolation and communication issues.

The presented study had three objectives with the first aim to find out whether those who were working would differ from those who were not in self-assessed exposure to COVID-19 infection, changes in sleep and dietary patterns, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The second aim was to find out whether those whose jobs changed would experience the forgoing factors differently than those whose jobs were not altered. Lastly, the researchers strived to investigate respondents’ own accounts of what it was like to be employed during the pandemic.

A mixed-methods cross-sectional survey was conducted among community adults with behavioral health disorders from April 15, 2020, to May 13, 2020. There were 272 participants with a mean age of 49.9 years old and standard deviation of 13.5 years that were surveyed via SurveyMonkey. Inclusion criteria included (1)affiliation with CSPNJ or NYAPRS, (2) self-report of behavioral health disorder, mental health disorder, or substance use disorder, (3) 21 years old or older, and (4) ability to understand English. Measures used were the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-2 Questionaire and Patient Health Questionaire-2 along with surveying the pandemic’s impact on employment, sleep and diet, and the degree of COVID-19 exposure in daily activities of the participant.

Results showed that employed and changed job participants encountered COVID-related disruptions in sleep patterns and dietary routines. The possibility of work buffers the effects of instability and uncertainty due to the gratitude for employment and relief. Those who changed jobs experienced higher levels of anxiety and psychological distress. The survey exhibited few participants who lost their jobs. A low proportion of workers screened positive for anxiety and depressive disorder, which could be linked to access to mental health resources when looking at those who were unemployed verse employed. Over half of those experiencing job changes screened positive for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 2/5 for MDD. Researchers indicated that the job instability group versus the job loss group may be the predominant challenge for this group. Job seeking process is more challenging with the need for evidence-based support for employment services during the pandemic. Limitations of the study include self-report measures, lack of longitudinal design, and sample group.

The study has demonstrated evidence of the importance of work in the lives of employees with pre-existing behavioral health conditions. Programs for support and resources could improve the work experience. Support from peers and other professionals could assist in pandemic recovery to improve health and wellness. Another implication would be the initiation of services to address unemployment in the COVID economy.

Natalie did a wonderful job presenting the discussed study. She will be using this research and other related studies to assist her during the composition of her literature review project. Keep up the great work!

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