Research reveals impact of first lockdown on mental health

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University have published one of the first studies revealing the full impact of COVID-19 on mental health on different groups of people living in the UK.

The COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study was conducted with colleagues from Queen’s University Belfast and began on March 23, 2020 – the day the UK government announced the first national lockdown.

The study involved conducting an online survey of 1958 UK adults and collecting data from participants three times over the first 12 weeks with the aim of identifying patterns of anxiety, depression and COVID-19-related traumatic stress (CV19TS) symptoms.

Researchers found that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on people’s mental health in different ways – people who had low but stable mental health symptoms; people who had high but stable symptoms; people who had symptoms that improved over the period of the study; and, people who had symptoms that declined.

Two thirds showed low and stable self-reported mental health symptoms which lead author and GCU Head of Psychology Dr Kerri McPherson says reflects “considerable resilience to the unprecedented demands of lockdown”.

“However, at any point in time, around one fifth of the sample had clinically significant anxiety and depression symptoms and one sixth had elevated CV19TS symptoms suggesting difficulties adjusting to the pandemic,” added Dr McPherson.

“These rates are considerably higher than reported in UK samples pre-pandemic and they reinforce the need for additional mental health support for the adult population in the recovery phase and beyond.

“Even as we move into a recovery phase it is expected that the formulation of a ‘new normal’ will continue to require that we continue to adjust our behaviour and it is likely that this will continue to have consequences for, at least some people’s, mental health.

Co-author and Senior Lecturer in Applied Health Psychology Dr Kareena McAloney said one of the most interesting findings was that women seemed to show more resilience as time went on – starting off anxious but improving significantly over time, and their levels of PTSD were much lower than in men.

She said: “The important thing is that for the vast majority of people, as stressful or uncomfortable as this has been, it hasn’t had as significant an impact on their mental health in a clinical way that we would expect or think. There is a small proportion of the population who have been very badly affected and we need work on support networks for them.

“There is a need for us to keep monitoring how people are responding. I think the findings about women having that lower stress response could be because women are better equipped to cope with this pandemic or it could be a delayed response, and six months down the line we see an increase in symptoms.

“I have personal experience of this with my mum when I was hit by a car and almost died at the age of 11. I was in a wheelchair for six years and wasn’t supposed to walk again.

“My dad and brothers were really impacted but my mum carried us all through for years. It was years later when I started to walk again that my mum began to show the toll of that. So, I can kind of see that women could be holding society together right now but feel the impact later on.”

Read the full research paper –

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