News Release

‘Majority’ of UK junior doctors experienced severe depression, anxiety or stress during COVID-19 pandemic, according to new study

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Surrey

Poor working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic were factors in nearly half of junior doctors reporting symptoms of extremely severe depression, according to a new study led by the University of Surrey.  

The study found that 70 per cent of respondents reported feeling severe or extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety or stress symptoms while they were helping the NHS tackle the global incident.  

The survey was delivered between March 2020 and January 2021 – a time when the UK experienced peak infection rates during the initial outbreak of Covid-19. 

Dr Ruth Riley, project lead from the University of Surrey, said: 

"The country asked a lot from all medical professionals and other frontline staff during the initial outbreak of Covid-19. Our study highlights that the additional challenges and emotional burden linked to working in the pandemic is likely to have exacerbated the mental health challenges and stress levels experienced by doctors.  

"We also found imbalance with female junior doctors reporting higher levels of anxiety compared to their male counterparts, a result that may be explained by factors such as poorer work-life balance. Our team also found that ethnicity played a part in these results, with doctors from Asian backgrounds reporting higher levels of negative emotions than their counterparts." 

The research, which surveyed 456 junior doctors, spotlighted strained relationships within the workplace and high workloads as the most consistent sources of their depression, anxiety or stress.  

The study also pinpointed toxic work cultures - for example, bullying and discrimination - as another precursor for extreme negative feelings.  

Dr Kevin Teoh, from Birkbeck, University of London, who was involved in analysing the data, said: 

“We found a clear link between junior doctors’ working conditions and their mental health. It highlights the urgent need to address and improve the working conditions of junior doctors in the NHS. Focusing on the individual interventions like resilience training and counselling simply is not enough to retain our doctors and build a healthy and sustainable workforce.” 

The study has been published in the journal BMJ Open.  

The research was conducted in partnership with Birkbeck, University of London; University College London; Keele University; University of Birmingham; and the University of Manchester. 


Note to editors 


  • Dr Ruth Riley is available for interview upon request.  

  • Contact the University of Surrey press office via or call Dalitso Njolinjo, Media Team Manager on 07720767399 

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