DOI: 10.1177/21568693241226979 ISSN: 2156-8693

The Mental Health of Essential Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of U.S. State-level Policies

Rachel Donnelly, Adam K. Schoenbachler
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Emerging research documents concerning mental health outcomes among essential workers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, mental health outcomes may have varied across states in the United States, as state-level policies differed. Questions also remain about the mental health of workers during the second year of the pandemic. Using nationally representative data from the U.S. Household Pulse Survey (April–July 2021), we documented the mental health of essential workers and tested whether state-level policies (e.g., mask mandates) reduced mental health disparities for essential workers. Results show that food and beverage essential workers experienced heightened anxiety and depression relative to nonessential workers. Moreover, for food and beverage workers, disparities in mental health were smaller in states with mask mandates, expanded paid leave, and higher minimum wage compared to states without these policies. The present study points to the potential for state-level policies to protect the mental health of essential workers.

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