Mental health

New study suggests poor mental health not directly linked to lockdown

Despite most Covid-19 restrictions ending months ago, many people in England still continue to feel more distressed than usual, a new study has revealed.

The research, which was led by University College London (UCL) and King’s College London, collated data from more than 41,000 participants who completed online surveys between April 2020 and the April of this year.

The researchers discovered that, in the stated two years, 50-60% of women and 40-50% of men reported symptoms suggesting they were in distress – this compares with 25-30% of women and 20-25% of men reporting distress before the pandemic.

Even after hospitality venues like pubs, clubs and restaurant reopened, and most, if not all, legal restrictions were lifted, the wellbeing of the public continues to be worse than normal, leading researchers to believe there may be more to the nation’s consternation that previously believed.

Public wellbeing peaked whilst the country was still living under intense lockdown measures in June 2020, just a few months after the first shutdown. However, previous research suggests that this could be more linked to the warm and sunny weather experienced at the time, given it was the middle of summer.

The research also revealed that wellbeing was at its worst just after the initial nationwide lockdowns in March 2020, as well as during the third rounds of restrictions at the start of 2021, with some leading health professionals now urging for more to be done to combat the nation’s spiralling mental health.

Senior author, Professor Henry Potts, UCL Institute of Health Informatics, said: “Rates of psychological distress in the English population have been high and stayed high during the pandemic with only minor fluctuations.

“Some politicians and commentators have concluded that mental health problems are a result of lockdowns. But, our research shows that there is not a simple relationship between the two.

“And, as levels of psychological distress continued to be high up until as recently as April 2022, we urge that more needs to be done to support the mental health and wellbeing of the population following a turbulent two years.”

The study wasn’t perfect of course and researchers have warned that they cannot be certain that the data from people completing online surveys accurately mirrors the mood of the entire population.

The study sample included a marginally larger percentage of women than men, with participants more likely to be white. There was also a lack of data canvassing the second national lockdown at the end of 2020.

The CORSAIR study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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NHE May/June 2024

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