To say the last few months have been challenging is an understatement. Covid-19 has had major impacts worldwide, both on people’s health and almost every aspect of their lifestyle. Several countries (the UK including) have tried to slow the spread of the virus through imposing ‘lockdowns’, in which everything but the most essential activities are severely restricted. Whilst the evidence in terms of rates of infection and deaths from the disease have shown that lockdowns have been successful in curbing the spread of coronavirus, there is no doubt that this drastic change to daily life has had a knock-on effect on people’s mental health.
We know already that social support can help to protect against poor mental health, with physical isolation from those outside our households being one of the most difficult things about life in lockdown. Coupled with health related anxieties, worries about work and a complete disruption to our daily routine, it is unsurprising that reports of poor mental health have increased recently in the UK.
Early Reports of Mental Health in Lockdown
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently released a report which examined the mental health impacts of the first two months of lockdown in the UK. They compared mental health and wellbeing scores from a cohort of almost 12,000 participants before and after the pandemic, and found that on average mental health had declined by just over 8% (Banks & Xu, 2020). The groups who were most severely affected were women and young adults, with groups such as older men showing less deterioration. Other factors which led to more deterioration were those who had lost their jobs, those with children under 4, or those who reported Covid symptoms at the time of data collection. Those who showed the greatest worsening of their mental health were also those who reported more severe mental health problems pre-pandemic.
The economic impacts of lockdown, with job losses and a potential recession could also go on to have longer term affects on people’s mental health. The Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing research have estimated that if coronavirus causes a recession with a similar impact to the previous financial crisis, we could expect an additional 500,000 people struggling with their mental health in the UK (Durcan et al, 2020). They also emphasise that the economic impacts are likely to differ across the country, leading to further inequalities in mental health across the UK. Other groups more likely to be adversely affected are those from minority ethnic groups, healthcare workers, and those with existing mental illness.
Lockdown and Mental Health Services
The pandemic has also had an affect on mental health services. Despite the majority staying open and offering consultations over zoom or telephone, a study by Rethink found that 42% of respondents reported a worsening of their mental health due to receiving less support from services. For example, some struggled to engage with therapy outside of a traditional face-to-face setting, whilst others had to be sent home from inpatient units which had to close.
This research is still from the early stages of the pandemic, so it is important that further research is conducted to evaluate the longer term mental health impacts of coronavirus, especially as lockdowns and furlough schemes are loosened. It is vital that governments prepare not just for a second wave of the virus, but also to address the mental health impacts caused by the lockdowns, job losses, and economic uncertainty.
Thanks for reading – I hope you found this summary of the early research into mental health impacts of coronavirus interesting. Check back next week for a post focusing specifically on the mental health impacts of coronavirus on children and young people.
Banks and Xu (2020) The mental health effects of the first two months of lockdown and social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Durcan et al (2020) Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health Forecasting needs and risks in the UK: May 2020. Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Briefing Report.
Rethink Mental Illness (2020). What Impact has Covid-19 had on mental health services? https://www.rethink.org/news-and-stories/blogs/2020/05/what-impact-has-covid-19-had-on-mental-health-services/ Accessed 5th July 2020.