The CoPE-HCP study was designed, during the early part of COVID-19 pandemic, when there was great concern for the mental health of healthcare professionals with no scientifically-proven mitigating strategies to reduce that impact. Funded by Barts Charity, this new longitudinal study found that, on average, the lifestyle of healthcare professionals had generally worsened compared to the start of the pandemic. About 43% of the 613 healthcare professionals involved reported being less physically active, which rose to 56% four months later. It was also concerning that 23% of healthcare professionals in this study reported not always managing to eat a healthy diet, which rose to 28% four months later.
The study, which involved two online surveys approximately four-months apart, also found that the risk of depression, anxiety, and low mental wellbeing was reduced by up to 40% when their lifestyle improved compared to the start of the pandemic. Interestingly, those whose lifestyle had improved also had improved depression and anxiety symptoms and increased mental wellbeing over time, demonstrating the value of a healthy lifestyle to maintain good mental health.
Dr Ajay Gupta, senior author, chief investigator and Clinical Reader at Queen Mary and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Pharmacology and Cardiovascular Medicine, said: “This important study demonstrates the consistent association between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a reduced risk of mental health issues in healthcare professionals. This is extremely important because healthy lifestyle, such as increased physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and reduced alcohol, cigarette smoking, and vaping consumption, is a cost-effective strategy which can be implemented by the individual, but also promoted by the NHS Trusts and other providers, to help protect their staff against the adverse mental health impact. I would encourage all NHS trusts to provide provision for exercise and stress relief strategies routinely to staff, but in particular to those at higher risk. One such example could be subsidised Gym or swimming access to HCPs”
This study was the first to demonstrate that improved overall lifestyle can help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety over time, or protect against worsened symptoms of depression and anxiety, in healthcare professionals working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings should help policy makers to review provisions of these measures in the work-place to improve work conditions and retention of the staff, and more importantly their mental wellbeing.