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COVID-19 and job insecurity compounds depression in breast cancer patients

Research reveals levels to be 26% higher in affected women

This is a photo of a woman working

A new study led by researchers at the Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer (BRiC) at Birkbeck, University of London has found evidence that job insecurity created by COVID-19 can lead to greater depression levels in women living with a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Figures show that job security was 40% lower in women who were furloughed or unable to work as a result of the outbreak compared to women who had continued working. Those with low job security scored approximately 26% higher on depression than those with high job security.

Workability in women after breast cancer diagnosis has proven to improve cognitive and emotional health as well as protect against anxiety and depression leading to a better quality of life in survivorship. Work plays a central role in their recovery and provides them with a sense of normality, purpose and stability after what has otherwise been a highly distressing and uncertain period in their lives.

Threats from COVID-19 on job security show the psychological harm that such women are exposed to, which can lead to exaggerated levels of clinical depression.

The study, which was based on a series of online questionnaires completed by 234 women with primary breast cancer in the UK, measured the impact of COVID-19 on perceptions of work during the peak of the pandemic. The results further revealed that women who had been furloughed by an employer or left unable to work as a consequence of the outbreak had significantly greater job insecurity.

Bethany Chapman, a PhD student from the Birkbeck’s Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer (BRiC), who conducted the research, said “This is the first study in the UK to show the concerning impact of job insecurity provoked by the response to COVID-19 on emotional and cognition health of women living with a primary breast cancer diagnosis.

“We know from previous research that worse emotional distress (anxiety and depression) and cognitive impairment is associated with a lower overall quality of life and reduced work ability in women with breast cancer. Our findings provide vital evidence that women with threats to job security unable to work or furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic would benefit from receiving early interventions like online adaptive cognitive training that promote cognitive and emotional resilience before their return to work. 

“Once the furlough scheme finishes on the 31st of October there will undoubtedly be numerous redundancies made across multiple industries in the UK and thus we must use our knowledge from the current study and our previous research to ensure that these detrimental vulnerabilities are targeted early to optimise work performance and reduce the risk of women being selected for redundancy against other co-workers on the grounds of sub-optimal work output.”

Professor Nazanin Derakhshan who supervised the research said, “While there are established links between depression and clinical mortality in secondary breast cancer, the results of the current study that show greater depression in women with a primary diagnosis of breast cancer should not be taken lightly. Around 30% of women with a primary diagnosis of breast cancer go on to develop secondary breast cancer which is incurable.”

The study which is published in Frontiers of Psychology – Psycho-Oncology was authored by Bethany Chapman; Dr. Jessica Swainston; Professor Beth Grunfeld; and Professor Nazanin Derakshan, the founder of Birkbeck’s Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer.

Further Information

Read more about the Birkbeck Integrative Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer (BRiC).

To read about how cognitive control can improve the quality of life of women with breast cancer, see here.

More findings from the Research team.




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