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The mental health impact of COVID-19 and pandemic related stressors among adults in the UK

By Tarani Chandola, Meena Kumari, Cara L Booker, Michaela J Benzeval

Posted 07 Jul 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.05.20146738

Background: The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a wide range of social and economic changes that could, in turn, have affected the mental health of the UK adult population. Previous research has not been able to measure the broad range of potential stressors, nor examine whether recent changes in those stressors have positively or negatively impacted on common mental disorders. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the stressful impact of the lockdown on mental health has accumulated over time or whether people have adapted to the new conditions of lockdown. This study examines whether there was an increase in the prevalence and incidence of Common Mental Disorders (CMD) in the UK adult population during the first few months of lockdown related to the coronavirus pandemic and whether changes in CMD were associated with an increase in stressors related to lockdown and the pandemic. Methods: Longitudinal data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (wave 9: 2017-2019 and waves 1 and 2 of the Coronavirus survey in April and May 2020 respectively), a representative sample of UK population, were analysed. Common mental disorders (CMD) were measured using the GHQ-12 (cut off >2) at all waves. The difference in the GHQ-12 (using Likert scores) between waves measured changes in psychological well-being. The incidence of CMD and changes in psychological well-being were analysed in relation to pandemic specific stressors and changes in economic, financial, household and psychosocial stressors. Findings: Around 30% of UKHLS adults without CMD in 2017/9 had a CMD in April 2020. However from April to May 2020, the incidence reduced considerably to below 13%. Much of the increase in incident CMD between April and May was associated with an increase in feelings of loneliness, but some of this increase was also associated with increasing domestic work demands (arising out of childcare and home-schooling), working from home, and the receipt of care from outside the home. The reduction in the incidence of many of these stressors in May (compared to April) coincided with a reduction in the incidence of CMD in May. Conclusion: The pandemic and resultant lockdown were associated with an increase in the incidence of CMD in the UK adult population initially in April 2020. These changes were associated with increases in feelings of loneliness and stressors related to work and domestic life and receipt of care. There was some evidence of adaptation to many of these stressors over the lockdown period by May 2020. However, if levels of unemployment and redundancy increase in the near future, the implications for the mental health of the population need careful thought and monitoring.

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