Contact: Christoph Pieh, MD
For Release: Immediately
Symptoms of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression skyrocketed in the United Kingdom (UK)—more than doubling from pre-pandemic levels—starting just four weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown began last spring, a large new study finds.
Just over half of adults had symptoms of a mental disorder in self-rated questionnaires compared to about 20% before the quarantine began on April 21. The online surveys, completed by May, included 1,006 adults, a sample that mirrors the population of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The new findings, published ahead of print, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
“We were surprised the rates were so high,” says study author Christoph Pieh, MD, Professor of Psychosomatic Medicine and head of the Dept. of Psychotherapy and Biopsychosocial Health at Danube University Krems, Austria. Emerging studies from Europe and around the globe are finding an apparently serious mental health toll from the pandemic. Britain at present is among European countries with the highest number of deaths from COVID-19—over 42,000.
The UK questionnaires asked about psychological well-being in the last two weeks, perceived stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, and insomnia. Participants also gave their age, sex, income, employment and relationship status, as well as physical activity levels. Among key findings:
** For every aspect of mental health, younger adults are faring much worse than elders. Comparing those 18 to 24 years old with people 65 or older: 63% of the younger group have symptoms of depression vs. 12% of older adults; for anxiety, it’s 59% vs. 12%; insomnia, 35% compared to 13%.
** Unemployed and low-income adults have poorer mental health than employed, higher-income or retired people.
** A close primary relationship, marriage for example, appears a boon to mental health during lockdown—but not if it’s a troubled union. During quarantine, “it was better to be in no relationship than in a bad relationship,” says Pieh.
** Women had worse self-reported mental health than men – true in pre-pandemic times also—but symptom rates soared for both sexes. Nearly half of women had symptoms of depression, compared to 9% before quarantine, while about one out of three men had symptoms of depression vs. 6% before the lockdown.
Since last spring, other studies from the UK and Europe suggest mental health may not have changed significantly after the first hard hit within a month or two of quarantine, says Pieh.
The age difference in symptoms of mental disorders was a big surprise, he notes. “”We expected an increase by age, as older people are known to be more severely affected by the virus. Maybe the economic consequences, as well as the lockdown measures, have a greater impact on younger adults’ lives.”
Also, elders have lived longer, perhaps gaining perspective, “so they may be able to manage crises better. They know crises have a beginning, and they have an end,” Pieh adds.
Since the new findings didn’t follow the same people over time to track differences from pre- to post-lockdown, researchers can’t say for sure that the quarantine itself was a cause of these mental health changes, he cautions. But the UK results are consistent with other recent studies on mental health post-COVID-19. “We found such a big increase in symptoms, and taking into account the other studies and the financial situation people are facing, I see a significant impact on mental health from the pandemic,” Pieh concludes.
Study Link: https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000871
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1942, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that conducts an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”