How COVID-19 affected the UK's mental health

Published: 25 April 2022

There was a sustained increase in mental distress in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. This did not reverse when lockdown lifted.

Published 25th April 2022

The substantial deterioration in mental health seen in the UK during the first lockdown did not reverse when lockdown lifted, and a sustained worsening was observed across the pandemic period.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, analysed results from 11 longitudinal studies involving 49,993 adult participants.

The research was carried out by SPHSU researchers Michael Green, Vittal Katikireddi and Elaine Robertson, with colleagues at UCL, University of Edinburgh, University of Bristol, Bradford Institute for Health Research, University of Leicester and King's College London.

The study found a 29 per cent increase in the number of people with psychological distress in April to June 2020, compared to before the pandemic.

This rose to 36 per cent compared to the pre-pandemic level between October 2020 and February 2021, with no notable reduction during the lifting of lockdowns in summer 2020.

Age, sex and education levels affected people’s experiences of the pandemic:

  • Middle-aged people (35-44) and older people (65 and over) saw the highest increase in their distress levels. 35-44 year olds are most likely to have primary school aged children to care for and home school during lockdown. Distress levels may have been higher for those 65 and over in the first lockdown as they were the most at risk from COVID-19.
  • Females experienced more distress than males. This might be due to a range of reasons including greater caring duties taken on by females and worse employment outcomes. Females also make up the majority of frontline health workers.
  • People with degrees saw their mental distress increase more compared to those without during the pandemic (although pre-pandemic distress was lower in those with degrees so their increasing mental distress was from a lower baseline).

The study concludes that any future pandemic planning should include strategies for prevention and treatment of mental ill health.

Infographic - How COVID-19 affected the UK's mental health infographic

The paper, Psychological distress before and during the COVID-19 pandemic among adults in the United Kingdom based on coordinated analyses of 11 longitudinal studies, is published in JAMA Network Open.


First published: 25 April 2022

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