Over a quarter of adults experienced mild to severe depressive symptoms, a 20% increase from pre-Covid-19 lockdown.
Research led by the University of Glasgow has shown that lockdown has a profound effect on mental health, with the most devastating impact being caused in the first six weeks.
The study, which assessed over 3000 adults via a survey, found that 26% of respondents experienced mild to severe depressive symptoms. To put that in context, the pre-Covid-19 level was believed to be around 5% across the population.
During the first six weeks, between 31 March and 9 May, levels of anxiety, feelings of entrapment, and levels of defeat rose substantially. The study found that this increase was most apparent in the 18-29 age bracket, with 37% experiencing feelings of entrapment in the first wave of lockdown and 30% experiencing anxiety.
Suicidal thoughts did not peak during the first period of lockdown, and have instead increased over the course of lockdown. These reported rates were again most prevalent in those aged 18-29, with 10% of respondents overall reporting suicidal ideation and 14% in the youngest age bracket. The research points to the growing economic uncertainty and warns that this a trend that needs to be watched over the coming month with the further imposition of local restrictions.
Speaking on the studies findings regarding suicide Dr Liz Scowcroft, Samaritans Head of Research and Evaluation, said: “it is important to remember that a rise in suicides is not inevitable. Suicide is preventable and these results demonstrate that it’s more important than ever that effective support is available for those who need it most.
“As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, it is a priority for us to reach those struggling to cope and encourage them to seek help before they reach crisis point. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business, so we need to work together to ensure that no one has to face these things alone. It can be as simple as checking in with those around us who might be struggling and encouraging them to talk or reach out for support.”
The study also identified cross sections of society that were most affected by lockdowns: women, young people (aged 18-29 years), those from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with pre-existing mental health problems suffered the most as a result of the pandemic response. The conclusion was drawn that these groups need to be prioritised when provision is made.
Prof O’Connor, Chair in Health Psychology at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, 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 the future.”