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Home Publications Fifth of the population experiencing persistently worse mental health over the course of the pandemic

Fifth of the population experiencing persistently worse mental health over the course of the pandemic

James Banks, Daisy Fancourt and Xiaowei Xu
Press release

Mental health has been one of the great casualties of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns and recession. New analysis by IFS researchers, published today as one chapter in the World Happiness Report, examines the effects of the first six months of the pandemic on trajectories of mental health in the UK, by comparing actual trajectories to a prediction of what would have happened in the absence of the pandemic. Crucially it looks not just at who suffered the worst negative shocks but also whether these continued over the course of the lockdown or whether a recovery in mental health was recorded.

It finds that:

  • A general measure of mental health fell by 8% across the UK population (1 scale point) as a result of the onset of Covid-19. Since then, mental health has improved but remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels. By September 2020, general mental health was still 2% lower than predicted in the absence of the pandemic. [4]
  • A fifth (22.5%) of people were persistently badly affected, defined as suffering a deterioration in mental health of 1 or more scale points in both April and September.
  • Young women (aged 16-34) had the worst initial mental health shocks, but they recovered relatively quickly. By September they were not much worse off than the general population.
  • In contrast, the negative mental health impacts on older women (aged 65+) were remarkably persistent. By September, they were the group who had experienced the worst effects of the pandemic on average, and the group with the highest numbers experiencing persistently bad effects (29%).
  • Taking other factors into account, older women were 1.8 times more likely to have been persistently badly affected than middle-aged and older men, the least affected groups. Young adults of both genders were around 1.4 times more likely to have suffered persistently bad effects than middle-aged and older men.
  • Those with larger social circles pre-pandemic were more likely to have suffered persistent deteriorations in mental health, whilst those in strong romantic relationships fared better. Covid-19 symptoms and job losses also affected mental health trajectories.

Xiaowei Xu, a Senior Research Economist at IFS and an author of the paper, said:

“Mental health has been a great casualty of the pandemic. At the same time as demand for support has increased, mental health services have been severely disrupted. Women and young people are most likely to have suffered persistently bad deteriorations. Policymakers should target support at these groups as we come out of the pandemic and start to rebuild.”

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