The Mental Health Foundation is leading an ongoing, UK-wide, long-term study of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people’s mental health, working with the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast.  Here is snapshot of recent findings from the research.

New results from the study show that one year on, the crisis has had wide and deep emotional impacts on UK adults.  The research reveals some positive signs. Anxiety about the pandemic has become less common, falling from 62 per cent of those surveyed in March 2020 to 42 per cent in February 2021.

Feeling of loneliness on the rise

However, the overall picture is mixed. Loneliness has become much more common, increasing from 10 per cent of those surveyed in March 2020 to 26 per cent in February 2021. Feelings of loneliness have not returned to their pre-lockdown levels at any point over the past year, including when most restrictions were lifted over the summer.

Loneliness matters for mental health because connections with others help us cope with difficulties. Losing connections means less emotional support, at a time of global crisis that has challenged almost everyone.

Findings on stress and suicide

The number of people who said they are coping well with the stress of the situation has fallen slowly and fairly steadily over the last year. In April 2020, during the first lockdown, 73 per cent of UK adults said they were coping well and in February 2021, 64 per cent said this.  

It is not yet clear whether the pandemic will affect suicide rates. Mental health experts know that suicide is potentially preventable, if action is taken now. It is also important to remember that most people who have suicidal thoughts and feelings do not go on to attempt or complete suicide. Nevertheless, the study clearly reveals that a considerable portion of the population has been living in hopeless circumstances for a whole year.

The impact on different groups of the population

The study continues to show that some groups of people are much more distressed than UK adults generally. These include 18-24 year-olds, full-time students, single parents and adults who are unemployed, as well as single parents, people with long-term disabling health conditions and mental health problems that pre-date the pandemic.

Among 18-24 year-olds, for instance, 48 per cent of those surveyed in February said they had felt lonely as a result of the pandemic over the previous two weeks. This is almost double the rate of loneliness among UK adults generally (26 per cent).

It is also sharply higher than the rate of loneliness among young adults (18-24) themselves in March 2020. At that point, 16 per cent of those surveyed said they had felt lonely as a result of the pandemic during the previous fortnight.

People who are unemployed also appear to be finding the pandemic especially hard and, on some measures, getting worse. In March 2020, they were as likely as UK adults generally to say they had felt hopeless about the pandemic over the previous fortnight (18 per cent among both groups). By February 2021, the extent of hopelessness among UK adults generally was unchanged but among the unemployed, it had risen to 28 per cent.

“The Study has tracked the pandemic’s impacts on our mental health for a year now.  What we see is a complex picture – on some measures, UK adults are feeling better than in March 2020 but on others, we are feeling no better or worse.  Fewer of us are feeling anxious about the pandemic but more of us now feel lonely and ground down by the stress of the past year.  It is absolutely important to remember that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone.  We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat.  The Coronavirus vaccine brings hope.  The warmer weather brings smiles.  However, for many of us, the next few months – and even years – will remain tough, vulnerable and uncertain.” - Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation 

Click here to read more and to access the full study

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