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Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Matthias Pierce, Holly Hope, Tamsin Ford, Stephani Hatch, Matthew Hotopf, Ann John, Evangelos Kontopantelis, Roger Webb, Simon Wessely, Sally McManus, Kathryn M. Abel

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-892
Number of pages10
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Volume7
Issue number10
Early online date21 Jul 2020
DOIs
Accepted/In press1 Jan 2020
E-pub ahead of print21 Jul 2020
PublishedOct 2020

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King's Authors

Abstract

Background: The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on population mental health is of increasing global concern. We examine changes in adult mental health in the UK population before and during the lockdown. 


Methods: In this secondary analysis of a national, longitudinal cohort study, households that took part in Waves 8 or 9 of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) panel, including all members aged 16 or older in April, 2020, were invited to complete the COVID-19 web survey on April 23–30, 2020. Participants who were unable to make an informed decision as a result of incapacity, or who had unknown postal addresses or addresses abroad were excluded. Mental health was assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). Repeated cross-sectional analyses were done to examine temporal trends. Fixed-effects regression models were fitted to identify within-person change compared with preceding trends. 


Findings: Waves 6–9 of the UKHLS had 53 351 participants. Eligible participants for the COVID-19 web survey were from households that took part in Waves 8 or 9, and 17 452 (41·2%) of 42 330 eligible people participated in the web survey. Population prevalence of clinically significant levels of mental distress rose from 18·9% (95% CI 17·8–20·0) in 2018–19 to 27·3% (26·3–28·2) in April, 2020, one month into UK lockdown. Mean GHQ-12 score also increased over this time, from 11·5 (95% CI 11·3–11·6) in 2018–19, to 12·6 (12·5–12·8) in April, 2020. This was 0·48 (95% CI 0·07–0·90) points higher than expected when accounting for previous upward trends between 2014 and 2018. Comparing GHQ-12 scores within individuals, adjusting for time trends and significant predictors of change, increases were greatest in 18–24-year-olds (2·69 points, 95% CI 1·89–3·48), 25–34-year-olds (1·57, 0·96–2·18), women (0·92, 0·50–1·35), and people living with young children (1·45, 0·79–2·12). People employed before the pandemic also averaged a notable increase in GHQ-12 score (0·63, 95% CI 0·20–1·06). 


Interpretation: By late April, 2020, mental health in the UK had deteriorated compared with pre-COVID-19 trends. Policies emphasising the needs of women, young people, and those with preschool aged children are likely to play an important part in preventing future mental illness. Funding: None.

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