How has our mental health fared during lockdown, and how will we cope as restrictions are lifted?
Probably the largest UK study examining the social and psychological impact of COVID-19 and lockdown by University College London’s (sign up here) Department of Behavioural Science & Health has tracked a range of mental health and social factors throughout the crisis.
The latest results release for November report on psychological responses to the first thirty-four weeks since the crisis began with measures including:
- Compliance with government guidelines and confidence in the government
- Mental health including depression, anxiety and stress
- Harm including thoughts of death or self-harm, self-harm and both psychological & physical abuse
- Psychological and social wellbeing including life satisfaction, loneliness and happiness
- Social distancing and financial situation since lockdown, with additional focus on gender, ethnicity, educational levels and physical health conditions
Financial inequality has increased since the summer with 70% of people who were finding things difficult financially before the pandemic now finding things 'far worse'. 39% of all adults (total study population ~70,000) in the North East, regardless of their financial position before the pandemic, say things are now worse for them.
In the week commencing 9th November, whilst the majority of people reported maintaining social distancing, 8% reported not always maintaining social distancing with 2% not following it at all, however, this was an improvement on the summer. No gender differences were apparent but younger adults report maintaining it less consistently. Compliance has improved slightly in the past few weeks as cases of the virus have increased and stricter restrictions have been brought in.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Depression and anxiety levels were relatively constant in the early part of November with levels worse than they were in mid-August, but lower than they were at the start of lockdown in March. Wellbeing has worsened since new restrictions were brought in in mid-September. Life satisfaction was 8% lower than it was at the start of September but still 11% higher than at the start of the first lockdown in March.
Happiness levels are now 5% lower than they were before more restrictions were brought in in mid-September, but 5% higher than during first lockdown in April. The decrease in recent weeks has been particularly evident amongst older adults, though they remain higher in this age group compared to younger adults.
Past results in the study have shown how anxiety and depression went up when lockdown was first introduced, but then reached a plateau. Indeed, some measures of anxiety actually dropped during the lockdown. Worries about catching the virus and about getting food declined, because people stayed out of harm’s way in their homes and supermarkets remained stocked.
Financial hardship is known to be associated with depression and anxiety - especially unemployment - and as people increasingly face tackling the longer term economic down turn - as highlighted by the Chancellor's speech this week - it is unfortunately likely that mental health difficulties will continue to be on the rise.
Overall, poor mental health was found to be higher amongst younger people, those in urban areas, those with a lower household income and people who have a diagnosed mental health condition.
Targeted solutions to help people cope better with mental health conditions – either pre-existing, brought on or made worse by the issues of COVID-19 – could certainly help ease this mental health crisis.
Telecare solutions, online therapy, employee assistance programmes, self help, mindfulness and wellbeing are all relevant to help ease this burden so that the new normal comes back fitter than ever - for employees and employers across the board.
Keep up to date with us at Plan A for awareness of, and introductions to some of those solutions.
Digital Health - beyond electronic records
With the 'digitalisation' of healthcare new possibilities emerge which can further transform our approach to maintaining balanced health. Matt Butler says we must all be aware that we have these 'health sensors' in our pockets, indeed are largely addicted to them, and that these are moving on from being useful healthcare assistants increasingly taking on the role of clinical commissioning agent too.