“First six weeks” of lockdown took biggest toll on nation’s mental health, study reveals

The coronavirus lockdown has had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups across the UK, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Glasgow, adds to the growing body of evidence against further restrictions to freedom of movement in fear of a larger mental health crisis.

According to the paper, the first six weeks of lockdown significantly disadvantaged young people, women, and families from socially disadvantaged backgrounds compared to the general population.

Those with pre-existing conditions were also among those who reported the worst mental health outcomes in the initial phase of the national lockdown.

The researchers say poor mental health manifested as symptoms such as anxiety, depression, “levels of defeat”, “entrapment”, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts, with the latter experienced by one in 10 (9.8 per cent) people.

When broken down by demographic, the report reveals that younger adults were more likely to report suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms than older generations, while those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts compared to those in higher socio-economic groups.

Commenting on the study of 3,077 UK adults, study author Professor O’Connor said: “While public health measures, such as lockdown, have been necessary to protect the general population, we know the effects of COVID-19 on the population’s mental health and wellbeing are likely to be profound and long-lasting.

“The findings from our study, showing in particular the increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults, is concerning, and show that we must be vigilant to this at-risk group.”

Billy Watson, Chief Executive of charity SAMH, added: “This important research shows that mental health will continue to be a crucial issue in the coming months. We must invest in support, particularly for those groups who have been most affected by the pandemic: services must be available when they are needed.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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