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

Pierce, M., Hope, H., Ford, T. , Hatch, S. L., Hotopf, M., John, A., Kontopantelis, E., Webb, R., Wessely, S., McManus, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-2711-0819 & Abel, K. M. (2020). Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(10), pp. 883-892. doi: 10.1016/s2215-0366(20)30308-4


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

Methods: Secondary analysis of the UK Household Longitudinal Study Waves 6 (2014/15) to 9 (2018/19), matched to the COVID-19 web-survey completed by 17,452 panel members 23-29 April 2020. Mental health was assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ). Repeated cross-sectional analyses were conducted to examine temporal trends. Fixed effects regression models were fitted to identify within-person change compared to preceding trends.

Findings: Population prevalence of clinically significant levels of mental distress rose from 18·9% (95% confidence interval: 17·8-20·0) in 2018/19 to 27·3% (26·3-28·2) in April 2020, one month into lockdown. Mean GHQ-12 score also increased over this time, from 11·5 (11·3–11·6) to 12·6 (12·5–12·8). This was 0·48 (0·07-0·90) points higher than expected when accounting for prior upward trends between 2014 and 2018. Comparing scores within-individuals, adjusting for time-trends and predictors of change, increases were greatest in 18-24-year-olds (2·69 points, 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; 0·20-1·06).

Interpretation By late April 2020, mental health in the UK had deteriorated compared to trends pre-COVID-19. Policy 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.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR180 Immunology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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