Mental health has declined sharply among young UK adults during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 28, 2022

2 minute read

Disclosures: Patel does not report any relevant financial information. Please see the study for all relevant disclosures by other authors.

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Mental health has declined significantly throughout the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, with women, higher education and young adults most affected, UK study finds.

“There have been widespread concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures on the mental health of the population,” Kishan Patel, PhD, of the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Aging at University College London, and colleagues wrote in JOpen AMA Network. “Globally, there is evidence that the pandemic is resulting in poorer mental health, but much of this could depend on COVID-19 rates and the different mitigation policies implemented.”

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The researchers aimed to study mental health alterations and sociodemographic inequalities before and throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cohort study included 49,993 adult participants (24.6% aged 55-64, 61.2% female, 8.7% from historically underrepresented communities) from 11 UK longitudinal studies based on the population with pre-pandemic measures of psychological distress.

Trends in the prevalence of poor mental health were assessed during the pre-pandemic period (TP0) and at three distinct pandemic intervals: initial lockdown (TP1: March 2020 to June 2020), easing of restrictions (TP2: July 2020 to October 2020); and subsequent confinement (TP3: November 2020 to March 2021). Analyzes were stratified by gender, race and ethnicity, education, age and country specific to the UK

Multilevel regression was used to examine changes in psychological distress from the pre-pandemic period through the first year of COVID-19. Psychological distress was assessed using several mental health assessment tools, including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and the Center for Epidemiological Studies–Depression in different studies. Analyzes were coordinated and estimates were pooled. Data was collected from 2006 to 2021.

Patel and colleagues found that mental health deteriorated from pre-pandemic scores during all pandemic periods. Pandemic-wide changes in psychological distress were greater in women (TP3: standardized mean difference, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.11, 0.35) than in men (TP3: SMD, 0.16; 95% CI, 0.06-0.26) and lower in less educated sufferers at TP3 (SMD, 0.18; 95% CI, 0.06-0.30) compared to those with a degree (SMD, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.14-0.38). The data also showed that the increase in psychological distress was greater in adults aged 25-34 (SMD, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.14-0.84) and 35-44 years (SMD, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.10-0.60) compared with other age groups. The researchers saw no evidence of changes in distress that differed by race and ethnicity or country within the UK.

“Sustained deterioration, even when lockdowns were relaxed, somewhat refutes the idea that easing lockdowns necessarily improved mental health,” Patel and colleagues wrote.

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Edward L. Robinett