The COVID-19 pandemic and the mitigation measures by governments have upended the economic and social lives of many people, leading to widespread psychological distress. In a recent study, ISS researcher Lea Ellwardt and her co-author Patrick Präg from the Institut Polytechnique de Paris examined psychological distress during the pandemic in the United Kingdom. In addition, they looked at socio-demographic and health factors related to the development of distress.
Specifically, they analyzed representative survey data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. In the period from early 2020 to mid-2021, 15,914 participants were surveyed nine times about their mental health and psychological distress. The researchers found four different trajectories: about half (53%) of the respondents reported no distress at all, a small minority (8%) reported temporary distress during the first lockdown, and a quarter (24%) reported repeatedly increased distress during the three lockdowns, the last group (15%) reported consistently increased distress since the start of the pandemic. Thus, in total, nearly two-fifths of the population experienced severely elevated distress during the pandemic.
Long-term distress was highest among younger people, women, people living without a partner, those who had no work or lost income, and those with previous health conditions or COVID-19 symptoms. Given the threat of persistent stress on health, policy measures should be sensitized to the unintended yet far-reaching consequences of non-pharmaceutical interventions.