Depressive symptoms emerge among the "previously well" in pandemic

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Almost one in five adults (19.2 per cent) experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020; nearly doubling from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic, official statistics show.

Women aged between 16 and 39 years old, were the most likely to be affected, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which compared results before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020) to June. Also affected were those unable to afford an “unexpected expense”, or disabled people.

Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults said their depression manifested, with 84.9% stating this. Other common aspects of depression-like symptoms were feeling lonely, or spending too much time alone (52%). However, around 1 in 25 adults (3.5%) saw an improvement over this period.

Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind called the findings worrying: “We know people already struggling with their mental health or with related issues like problems with employment, housing, benefits and debt have been hardest hit by coronavirus, but these figures also show how the pandemic has affected people who were previously well and are now experiencing depressive symptoms for the first time.

“As more and more people ask for support for their mental health, well-resourced timely treatment must be available for anyone who needs it.”

ONS data follows a Lancet Psychiatry study of 17,452 participants during late April 2020. More than one quarter reported a level of mental distress that is “potentially clinically significant” (27.3%), compared with one in five people before the pandemic (18.9%).

Widening mental health inequalities

The report says the sharp rise one month after lockdown might represent a “spike in emotional response” that stabilises or falls as people adjust.

But it predicts mental health will worsen overall, particularly among those who might have been employed when the study was carried out but find their situations change.

“As the economic consequences of lockdown develop," it says. "When furloughs turn to redundancies, mortgage holidays expire, and recession takes effect, we believe it is reasonable to expect not only sustained distress and clinically significant deterioration in mental health for some people, but emergence of well described long-term effects of economic recession on mental health including increasing suicide rates and hospital admissions for mental illness.”

Pre-existing inequalities in mental health have also widened during the lockdown – ethnic and socioeconomic health inequalities experienced higher levels of emotional distress in the findings. Although problems are not new, it says: “These inequalities could become more entrenched and tackling them might be even more challenging”.

“The pandemic has brought people’s differing life circumstances into stark contrast: access to outside and inside space, household crowding, lack of school provision and childcare, food insecurity, domestic violence, addiction, access to internet and maintenance of social connectivity, as well as economic reserves, are all relevant to mental health.”

It calls for more “high-quality” information in public health messaging about mental health and adequately resourced services.

The Lancet Psychiatry: mental health before and after the pandemic: 


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