Mental health declined “substantially” after first month of lockdown, study reveals

Mental wellbeing across the UK declined “substantially” after the first month of Covid-19 lockdown, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Manchester and City, University of London, adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating how the pandemic has had a mental, as well as physical, health impact.

According to the survey of 18,000 people, the average level of “mental distress” increased in April 2020, the first month of imposed social distancing, compared to previous months.

Moreover, more than a quarter (27 per cent) of participants reported a level of mental distress defined as “clinically significant”, compared to just one in five (19 per cent) prior to the pandemic.

Demographically, levels of mental distress were higher among women than men and in younger age groups than older people, as well as those living with young children – which is consistent with other research studying the mental health impact of the lockdown.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers said the mental health impact is likely to get worse before it gets better as the true economic consequences, such as job losses and financial distress, come to fruition.

“The pandemic has brought people’s differing life circumstances into stark contrast. We found that, overall, pre-existing inequalities in mental health for women and young people have widened. At the same time new inequalities have emerged, such as for those living with pre-school children,” said co-author Sally McManus, of City, University of London.

“These findings should help inform social and educational policies aimed at mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health, so that we can try to avoid a rise in mental illness in the years to come.”

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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