Mindstep fund vital research on Covid-19 and mental health

The Mindstep Foundation is proud to have supported key research which has revealed that the first six weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown had a major impact on the UK population’s mental health and wellbeing.

Led by the University of Glasgow, the study, which is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found young people, women, individuals from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and those with pre-existing mental health problems reported the worst mental health outcomes in the initial phase of the national lockdown.

The study, which is the first publication from a large scale longitudinal research programme funded by the Mindstep Foundation, Samaritans and SAMH, is the most detailed examination to date of the mental health and wellbeing of the UK adult population during the first six weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research, led by the University’s Professor Rory O’Connor, Chair in Health Psychology at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, found that suicidal thoughts increased over the first six weeks of the UK’s lockdown (one in ten or 9.8% by the end of this period), however other factors related to suicide risk such as symptoms of anxiety, levels of defeat and entrapment decreased across the same period. Depressive symptoms and loneliness remained relatively stable but adversely affected.

Within this study, researchers surveyed a national sample of 3077 adults in the UK, assessing a range of mental health factors, including: pre-existing mental health problems; suicide attempts and self-harm; suicidal thoughts; depression; anxiety; feelings of defeat; feelings of entrapment; mental wellbeing; and loneliness.

The research looked at three ‘waves’ of lockdown between March 31 and May 11. Participants have also been followed up throughout the pandemic, and further results will be published in the coming months.

Further analysis into sub-groups showed worse mental health outcomes during the pandemic for females, young people (aged 18-29), those from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and those with pre-existing mental health problems. Males reported lower levels of depressive symptoms than females.

Younger adults (18-29 years) were more likely to report suicidal thoughts (14% reported suicidal thoughts by wave 3) and higher levels of depressive symptoms than those aged 30-59 years and over 60; with those aged 30-59 years reporting higher rates than those over 60.

Across all three waves, approximately one in four respondents (26.1%) experienced at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms.

Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts compared to those in higher socio-economic groups, as well as those with pre-existing mental health conditions compared to those without.

21% of the sample was above the cut-off for at least moderate levels of symptoms of anxiety at the start of lockdown; however, these symptoms decreased across the first six weeks.

Prof Rory O’Connor, who led the research, said: “While public health measures, such as lockdown, have been necessary to protect the general population, we know the effects of COVID-19 on the population’s mental health and wellbeing are likely to be profound and long-lasting. The findings from our study, showing in particular the increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults, is concerning, and show that we must be vigilant to this at-risk group.

“As we move through this pandemic, investigating the trajectory of mental health and wellbeing is crucial to giving us a better understanding of the challenges people face during this difficult time. By having such analysis and information, we can formulate targeted mental health measures and interventions for those most in need as this pandemic continues, as well as being prepared for future.”

We are pleased and proud to support this very important research. Mindstep is focussed on funding research into the causes of suicide and raising awareness of mental health warning signs, so research such as this, during these unprecedented and challenging times, is more important than ever.

You can find the link to the full study here.

October 22, 2020