The Covid-19 pandemic is having the greatest detrimental impact on the mental health of women, parents of under-fives and young people aged between 18-to-24-years old, a study by researchers at The University of Manchester, King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research and the National Centre for Social Research has found. 

While the country has seen a substantial increase in mental distress, the UK population has not affected all people the same. In April, the UK saw a 33% rise in women experiencing significant mental distress, a 32% increase among parents with children under five and a 37% hike among young people aged between 18 to 24 years old. Let’s digest that. A third of women, parents with under-fives and young people in the UK saw their mental health plummet during the first month of lockdown.

“Overall, pre-existing inequalities in mental health for women and young people have widened,” shared Sally McManus, joint senior author of the study. “We have to work even harder, then, to close gaps, so women don’t constantly bear the brunt of emergencies — and new inequalities don’t keep arising,” Sally added. 

Covid-19 Mental Health Study

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the research represents the UK’s first and largest longitudinal study on mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its findings are based on the experiences of 17,452 participants. 

Entitled Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population, the study found that approximately a third of people in the UK suffered from clinically significant levels of psychological distress in April 2020, compared to around one fifth prior to the pandemic. 

Capturing the situation in the UK one month into lockdown and as figures reported the country reaching the peak of the pandemic the research team has warned that as mortgage holidays come to an end, redundancy threats grow and the economic recession becomes more prominent, we may well feel the impact of inequalities deepen.  

Analysing people’s problems with sleep, concentration, decision making, strain and sense of overwhelm, the study’s authors explored trends in mental health in the five years leading up to the pandemic. By gathering this data, the authors were able to examine changes in the UK population’s mental health before and after the pandemic.

In this research study, the team did not find a significant decline in mental health in men or over 45 year olds. However, they do say that many men will be suffering the effects of low income and looking after young children at home, particularly with the added pressure of homeschooling. The researchers recommend that future studies should seek to understand more about men’s mental health and how their mental distress may be expressed. 

“This pandemic appears to be having a very detrimental effect on young people, and young women in particular,” said Dr Matthias Pierce from the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The University of Manchester and lead author of the study.

“The higher mental distress in women widens established mental health inequalities and highlights how important it is that providers make sure to maintain people’s access to services for domestic violence, sexual and reproductive health. Availability of childcare is also urgently needed,” Dr Matthias relayed.

“This is a unique study of mental distress in the UK in the weeks following lockdown and shows significant increases for some, but not all,” Professor Kathryn Abel added. “New inequalities in mental distress have also emerged: those living with young children and those in employment at the start of the pandemic now at risk of larger increases in mental distress.”

“Young people are least at risk from acute infection but are bearing the brunt of the lockdown,” Professor Tamsin Ford from the University of Cambridge said. “The poorer mental health of young people in this sample is deeply concerning as it occurs in addition to mounting evidence of both deteriorating mental health and worse outcomes for those with childhood mental health conditions. However, we need similar data on younger teenagers and children who may be at even higher risk.”

Our Mental Health 

Our mental health is not a whimsical fantasy shrouded in a utopian “wouldn’t it be nice if I…” notion. It’s imperative to our health. It’s not an add-on. An optional nicety. A, “I’ll do without it, thanks” —  like you’re simply turning down chips with your burger! 

No. Our mental health is critical. And more must be done to protect our mental health. Because it saves lives.

In recent years, the conversation on mental health —  its multi-faceted, personal and very real nature — has seemed to gather pace. The perception may be that we’re chatting about mental health more, but in times of crisis, it can also seem that it’s not carrying through into action. That it’s not translating over into tangible help and guidance. A better system. Specific programmes. Increased funding. That the chatter has gone quiet. With the risk of it falling to a murmur, then a whisper, then complete silence. While our mental health issues intensify.

The Lancet Psychiatry Study shines a light on just how much this has intensified — for some people. As the study researchers say, the hope is that this is just the start, one of many reviews into how all of us are affected in the most unprecedented of times. So that progression in mental health support takes place.

For anyone who is struggling, you are not alone. You can contact the Samaritans via the below details or access one of the numerous NHS resources for mental health helpline support.

Samaritans

Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Website: www.samaritans.org.uk