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UArizona study examines virus effects on grocery workers’ mental health

PHOENIX – A recent study from the University of Arizona found that customer behavior during the coronavirus pandemic is having adverse effects on the mental health of grocery store employees in the state.

The report showed 20% of grocery store workers have experienced severe levels of mental distress during the coronavirus pandemic and customer behavior was cited as the top cause.

It also showed that employees were most concerned about their employers being able to keep them safe amid the ongoing pandemic. Respondents said they were more likely to feel safe at work if employers put limitations on customer behavior like requiring masks and enforcing social distancing.

Lead author Brian Mayer, who is an associate professor at the UArizona School of Sociology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said the mental health of these workers is worse than previously thought.

“The number of people reporting severe mental health distress is two, three times what other surveys are finding during the pandemic,” Mayer said in a press release.

“Clearly, front line essential workers’ mental health is being harmed by the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mayer said the project was intended to focus on the experiences of retail and service workers because they are often overlooked. The group is an essential part of the workforce that makes minimum wage or close to minimum wage who is tasked with being on the frontlines, often without additional compensation.

The study also found respondents reported experiencing financial distress, anxiety and depression.

The report highlights and recommends the need for increasing training for supervisors and employees, developing strategies to encourage customer compliance with safety policies and connecting employees to health care and mental health resources.

The study was based on 3,996 grocery store workers during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic over the summer. It conducted in collaboration with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, which represents workers at nearly half of the grocery stores in Arizona.

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