A new survey completed after the first month of the UK's coronavirus lockdown has shown the detrimental effects the pandemic has had on mental health.
Published today in The Lancet Psychiatry, the study surveyed 17,452 households and found that more than a quarter (27.3 percent) reported “clinically relevant” levels of stress during late April 2020, compared to one in five (18.9 percent) prior to the lockdown.
Women, people aged between 16 and 24, and those living with pre-school children reported worse mental health during this period. Rating their mental health out of 36, women reported an average score of 13.6, compared to men who scored 11.5. Around one in three women (33.3 percent) had a score that would constitute clinically relevant stress, compared to one in five men (20.4 percent).
While women were more likely to experience higher levels of stress, the researchers found that mental distress manifests differently in men, and therefore needs further research.
While coronavirus is more likely to be physically damaging for older people more, young people reported higher levels of mental stress about the pandemic. When individuals were surveyed, those aged between 16 and 24, and 25 and 34, had the largest increase in stress: 2.69 points, and 1.57 points respectively.
Low-income households were also more likely to experience higher levels of stress as a result of the lockdown. The average score for those in low-income households was 13.9 out of 36, while the highest income households scored an average of 12 out of 36.
The study used questions from the General Health Questionnaire – a tool to identify minor psychiatric disorders – to measure people's mental health. Participants were asked to consider the previous two weeks and report whether they had experienced symptoms such as trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling overwhelmed or having problems with decision-making.
Professor Kathryn Abel from the University of Manchester, a clinical psychiatrist and joint senior author of the study, said: “While COVID-19 infection is a greater physical health risk to older people, our study suggests that young people’s mental health is being disproportionately affected by efforts to stop transmission of the virus. We would recommend policies focused on women, young people and those with preschool aged children as a priority to prevent future mental illness.”
While the study highlights the short-term implications of coronavirus on Britain's mental health, researchers stressed that its results are based only on survey responses. Further investigation is needed to fully understand the effects of the pandemic on mental wellbeing.
Geoff Heyes, head of health policy and influencing at Mind, the mental health charity, told VICE News: "The coronavirus pandemic is as much a mental health emergency as it is a physical health emergency. Mind's own study of 16,000 people showed similar findings to what researchers from the University of Manchester have found, that younger people, those living alone and people with pre-existing mental health problems have really struggled."
“We have been calling on successive UK governments to put mental health at the heart of the policy and political agenda," he continued. "This has never been more critical than it is now. Those in power must make the right choices to rebuild mental health services and support. This is can only be achieved by putting mental health at the very centre of the UK Government’s recovery plans, not only in relation to the NHS, but across all domestic departments.”
UPDATE 22/07/20: This piece was updated to include a comment from Mind.