Home carers' mental health worsened during lockdown

Published: 11 June 2021

A new study has found the mental health of home-carers deteriorated more during lockdown than non-carers.

Published 11th June 2021

A new study led by the SPHSU’s Dr Elise Whitley, with colleagues at the University of Essex, has found the mental health of home-carers deteriorated more during lockdown than non-carers.

Unpaid carers who look after another member of their household have poorer mental health than the general population. The first COVID-19 national lockdown led to an increasing reliance on home-carers, and this study investigated the short and longer-term impact of lockdown on their mental health.

Data from 9,737 adults from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (Understanding Society) were used to explore changes in 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) score firstly between pre-pandemic (2019) and early lockdown (April 2020), and also early and later lockdown (April-July 2020).

Key findings:

  • GHQ-12 scores among home-carers were higher pre-lockdown and increased more than for non-carers from 2019 to April 2020 with further increases for home-carers compared with non-carers between April and July.
  • Compared with respondents caring for a spouse/partner, those caring for a child under 18 had a particularly marked increase in GHQ-12 score between 2019 and April, as did those caring for someone with learning disabilities.
  • Home-carers of children under 18 improved from April to July while those caring for adult children saw a marked worsening of their mental health.
  • Home-carers with greater care burden saw larger increases in GHQ-12 score from 2019 to April and from April to July, and increases through both periods were greater for home-carers who had formal help prior to lockdown but then lost it.

Dr Elise Whitley said: “Prior to the pandemic almost 9 million people in UK were providing unpaid care for an individual, most commonly a close family member, with a disability, long term health condition, or needs related to old age. The withdrawal and suspension of many non-COVID-19 medical and social care services in March 2020 led to an increasing reliance on informal carers who were particularly likely to be negatively affected by COVID-19 lockdown measures. We found that individuals providing care for a member of their household had poorer mental health than non-carers prior to the pandemic and that this worsened as lockdown continued.

“This research shines a spotlight on the challenges facing informal carers before and during the pandemic. As restrictions on travel and hospitality are relaxed for the general population, priority should also be given to restarting and creating services that support carers and protect their mental and physical health.”

The study is published in Psychological Medicine - Tracking the mental health of home-carers during the first COVID-19 national lockdown: evidence from a nationally representative UK survey


First published: 11 June 2021

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