COVID-19 original research: One-third of Brits worried about their mental health and wellbeing

In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This marked the announcement of a new pandemic.

By 20 May as many as 5 million people globally had tested positive with the virus. Over 325,000 lives had been claimed. While this has become a massive public health concern around the world, the health impacts cannot be measure purely in terms of people’s physical wellbeing. Covid-19 will also take a heavy toll on people’s mental wellbeing.

As a mental health campaigner over many years, I have often cited the commonly used statistic that one-in-four people will experience mental health issues during their lives. This figure has quickly become outdated against the backdrop of a global pandemic. At the beginning of the UK’s lockdown in March, over 40% of adults claimed to be concerned about their mental health. That equates to over 20 million people.

Against the backdrop of Mental Health Awareness Week (18-22 May) it is important that we recognise that the economic and social lockdown, designed to prevent the spread of the virus, has brought with it a wide range of mental and psychosocial impacts which we cannot even begin to quantify at this stage.

Society has experienced a sudden and deep trauma: it is not just the loss of 35,000 lives, but the millions of social interactions at schools, colleges, workplaces, cafes, bars and restaurants that all came to an end on 23 March with no exit strategy in place. The mental health effects of which will last long after the physical impact has subsided.

Millions of British workers have experienced fundamental changes in their working patterns with nearly half of all workers working from home. 6 million people have had their employment furloughed. At the time we conducted our research around 3% of respondents (that’s 1 million workers) had already lost their jobs and had applied for unemployment benefits. Many of those who remain in work do so with a heavy sense of unease and uncertainty about what the future may hold.

As a result of these changes, we are all undergoing a heightened sense of stress, fear and anxiety – as well worrying about our family and friends, particularly those in ‘at risk’ groups, such as elderly relatives and those with underlying health conditions. The health of our family and friends is now the most pressing concern among the UK population, more so than our own mental health or financial predicament.

To address these issues, the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Use published a series of messages during March that can be used in communications to support mental wellbeing during the outbreak. Our report combines the WHO guidance, with fresh consumer research conducted by Cicero/AMO on 19 May, to provide an easyto-
read summary of the key messages which can be useful as part of our personal strategy for dealing with mental health concerns at the current time.

Click here or scroll down to read Cicero/AMO’s research.

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Mark Twigg

Executive Director

Andy Roberts

Head of Research