One in nine adults consistently had very poor or deteriorating mental health during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new research from the UK.
Those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods, along with ethnic minority groups, were the most affected. However, two-thirds of adults were in groups whose mental health was largely unaffected by the pandemic.
The study has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal and was compiled by researchers from King’s College in London and the universities of Cambridge, Swansea, Manchester and City.
Based on results from nearly 20,000 adults
Researchers analysed monthly surveys between April and October 2020 on 19,763 adults to identify typical patterns of change in mental health. This revealed five distinct groups.
The unaffected groups were more likely to be older, white and from the least deprived areas, with men being especially likely to have consistently very good mental health.
Twelve percent of the sample were in a group that experienced initial declines in their mental health at the beginning of the pandemic, then recovered over the (European) summer. Women and parents of school-aged children were particularly likely to be in this group, experiencing significant improvements in mental health around the time schools reopened.
Seven percent of the sample experienced a sustained decline in their mental health, while 4 percent of the sample had mental health that was consistently very poor throughout.
Most impact on minorities in deprived areas
The groups experiencing a sustained decline or consistently very poor mental health were more likely to have had pre-existing mental or physical conditions. They were also more likely to be Asian, Black or mixed ethnicities, and to live in the most deprived areas.
Researchers also found that infection with Covid, local lockdown and financial difficulties all predicted a subsequent deterioration in mental health.
It’s clear … that in terms of mental health the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic groups, those living in deprived areas, others experiencing financial difficulties and those who already had poorer mental health,” said Dr Matthias Pierce, lead author and research fellow from the University of Manchester.
“But also we find a large proportion of the population has remained resilient to the effects of the pandemic.”
Challenges do not affect everyone equally
The study used the UK Household Longitudinal Study which produces a high-quality data and includes groups such as those not on social media, who might not otherwise participate.
Added Professor Kathryn Abel from The University of Manchester: “We are increasingly aware that social and economic advantages have an important influence on how well people are able to cope with challenges that appear to have affected everyone equally.
“The health and social inequalities we already know about for women and for people in poverty relate to different burdens of stressful life events and different resources to deal with them.
“These remain relevant and are important reasons for the differences we are seeing in the mental health trajectories across the pandemic,” she said.