“Available evidence indicates that self-reported mental health and wellbeing worsened during the first national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms appeared to peak in April 2020. There is evidence of some recovery by July, perhaps back to pre-pandemic levels, which was sustained until September.
Recent analyses suggest that changes in overall population mental health since the beginning of the pandemic appear to be driven by a small proportion with more ‘volatile’ trajectories. It is important to identify the more vulnerable and the more resilient groups and the factors associated with this.
Many studies have analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). They suggest that, among adults:
- average mental distress (measured using GHQ-12) was 8.1% higher in April 2020 than it was between 2017 and 2019
- after accounting for the increasing trend since 2014, average mental distress was 0.5 points higher than expected in April 2020 (on the GHQ-12 scale)
- the proportion of adults who reported a clinically significant level of psychological distress increased from 20.7% in 2019 to 29.5% in April 2020, before returning to 21.4% in July 2020 and 21.5% in September 2020
- all demographic groups examined (age, sex, race/ethnicity, income) experienced increases in distress after the onset of the pandemic followed by decreases, but the change was larger for younger adults (aged 18 to 30), women, those identifying as ’non-white’ and those with higher income (over £50,000)
- the proportion of people experiencing sleep problems increased from 16% before the pandemic to 25% in April 2020
A study in southwest England found evidence of an increase in anxiety and low wellbeing during the first national lockdown. However, it found no evidence of a change in depressive symptoms. On the other hand, a study of people surveyed between July 2019 and March 2020, and then again in June 2020, suggests that the proportion of people reporting depressive symptoms increased and that those symptoms worsened over the period.
Use of mental health support
New: 45% of adults reported talking to friends or family members to support their mental health, with 43% engaging in self-care activities (such as mindfulness and meditation). 20% of adults reported taking medication, 9% talking to mental health professionals, 8% talking to a GP or other health professional, and another 8% using helplines or online services. Older adults accessed fewer forms of support than younger adults. On the other hand, women, people with higher educational levels, those who lived alone, those with a higher level of loneliness, those experiencing depression and anxiety, and people with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis used more approaches to support their mental health.
Different groups within the population were more likely to choose different mental health support strategies. Older adults and adults with less education were more likely than younger adults and than adults with more education to take medication, and less likely to speak to a mental health professional or use a helpline or online forum. Adults with lower incomes were also more likely to take medication. Black, Asian and minority ethnicity respondents were less likely to take medication, but more likely to use a helpline or online forum. Women were more likely than men to engage in self-care activities, or to speak to friends and family about their mental health. Adults who live alone were also more likely to speak to health professionals, engage in self-care activities and talk to others about their mental health than adults who live with others.”