BACKGROUND: During the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, studies identified over half of inflammatory arthritis (IA) patients in the UK reported a worsening of emotional distress. Given the prolonged nature of the pandemic, and the strict 'shielding' restrictions imposed on 'extremely clinically vulnerable' populations, it is likely that the implementation of the second lockdown period in England, during November 2020, may also have had a negative impact on the mental health of IA patients. The aim of this study was to qualitatively explore the impact of consecutive lockdown periods on mental wellbeing in people with IA.
METHODS: Nine IA patients took part in semi-structured telephone interviews at both baseline (June/July 2020) and follow-up (November 2020). The interview schedule, which was developed and piloted with a Patient Research Partner, explored patient experiences and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown periods. Interviews were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Five males and four females, with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or spondylarthritis, aged between 24-79 years (mean = 49.9, SD = 20.9) were included in the sample. Four main themes impacting on mental wellbeing were identified from the data: (1) Pandemic fatigue versus pandemic acclimatisation, (2) Social interaction and isolation, (3) Clarity of information, (4) Seasonal changes.
CONCLUSION: The first two COVID-19 lockdown periods in England had an ongoing impact on the mental health of patients with IA. Healthcare professionals, in conjunction with government support, should ensure that adequate information and mental health resources are available to support IA patients during periods of ongoing restrictions, whilst also continuing to encourage behaviours which promote good mental health and wellbeing.