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Severe COVID anxiety among adults in the United Kingdom: cohort study and nested feasibility trial

Crawford, M. J., King, J. D., McQuaid, A. , Bassett, P., Leeson, V. C., Tella, O., Di Simplicio, M., Tyrer, P., Tyrer, H., Watt, R. G. & Barnicot, K. ORCID: 0000-0001-5083-5135 (2024). Severe COVID anxiety among adults in the United Kingdom: cohort study and nested feasibility trial. BMC Psychiatry, 24(1), article number 27. doi: 10.1186/s12888-023-05446-9


People with severe COVID anxiety have poor mental health and impaired functioning, but the course of severe COVID anxiety is unknown and the quality of evidence on the acceptability and impact of psychological interventions is low.

A quantitative cohort study with a nested feasibility trial. Potential participants aged 18 and over, living in the UK with severe COVID anxiety, were recruited online and from primary care services. We examined levels of COVID anxiety in the six months after recruitment, and factors that influenced this, using linear regression. Those scoring above 20 on the short Health Anxiety Inventory were invited to participate in a feasibility trial of remotely delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Health Anxiety (CBT-HA). Exclusion criteria were recent COVID-19, current self-isolation, or current receipt of psychological treatment. Key outcomes for the feasibility trial were the level of uptake of CBT-HA and the rate of follow-up.

204 (70.2%) of 285 people who took part in the cohort study completed the six month follow-up, for whom levels of COVID anxiety fell from 12.4 at baseline to 6.8 at six months (difference = -5.5, 95% CI = -6.0 to -4.9). Reductions in COVID anxiety were lower among older people, those living with a vulnerable person, those with lower baseline COVID anxiety, and those with higher levels of generalised anxiety and health anxiety at baseline. 36 (90%) of 40 participants enrolled in the nested feasibility trial were followed up at six months. 17 (80.9%) of 21 people in the active arm of the trial received four or more sessions of CBT-HA. We found improved mental health and social functioning among those in the active, but not the control arm of the trial (Mean difference in total score on the Work and Social Adjustment Scale between baseline and follow up, was 9.7 (95% CI = 5.8–13.6) among those in the active, and 1.0 (95% C.I. = -4.6 to 6.6) among those in the control arm of the trial.

While the mental health of people with severe COVID anxiety appears to improve over time, many continue to experience high levels of anxiety and poor social functioning. Health anxiety is highly prevalent among people with severe COVID anxiety and may provide a target for psychological treatment.

Trial registration
Retrospectively registered at ISRCTN14973494 on 09/09/2021.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: COVID-19, Anxiety disorders, Cohort study, Feasibility trial
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
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
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
SWORD Depositor:
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