Keeping well in a COVID-19 crisis: a qualitative study formulating the perspectives of mental health service users and carers

Sara K. Simblett*, Emma Wilson, Daniel Morris, Joanne Evans, Clarissa Odoi, Magano Mutepua, Erin Dawe-Lane, Sagar Jilka, Vanessa Pinfold, Til Wykes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Background: People with existing mental health conditions may be particularly vulnerable to the psychological effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. But their positive and negative appraisals, and coping behaviour could prevent or ameliorate future problems. Objective: To explore the emotional experiences, thought processes and coping behaviours of people with existing mental health problems and carers living through the pandemic. Methods: UK participants who identified as a mental health service user (N18), a carer (N5) or both (N8) participated in 30-minute semi-structured remote interviews (31 March 2020 to 9 April 2020). The interviews investigated the effects of social distancing and self-isolation on mental health and the ways in which people were coping. Data were analysed using a framework analysis. Three service user researchers charted data into a framework matrix (consisting of three broad categories: “emotional responses”, “thoughts” and “behaviours”) and then used an inductive process to capture other contextual themes. Results: Common emotional responses were fear, sadness and anger but despite negative emotions and uncertainty appraisals, participants described efforts to cope and maintain their mental wellbeing. This emphasised an increased reliance on technology, which enabled social contact and occupational or leisure activities. Participants also spoke about the importance of continued and adapted mental health service provision, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with changes in their living environment, life schedule and social interactions. Conclusion: This study builds on a growing number of qualitative accounts of how mental health service users and carers experienced and coped with extreme social distancing measures early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than a state of helplessness this study contains a clear message of resourcefulness and resilience in the context of fear and uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-147
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Issue number2
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • coping
  • COVID-19
  • mental health


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