Lockdown Massively Increased Anxiety and Depression Diagnoses

Depression and anxiety levels in the UK are “jumped markedly” as a consequence of restrictions and isolation during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, according to researchers from the University of Bath.

Psychologists from the University’s Addiction and Mental Health Group conducted a detailed systematic review of 14 studies involving more than 46,000 participants. The research, published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology revealed that the prevalence of diagnosed depression leapt eightfold, from a pre-pandemic level of around 4% of the population to 32% (95% CI 29.00 to 35.00) following the first lockdown, which began 2 years ago on March 23, 2020 .

Similarly, diagnosed cases of anxiety, which pre-pandemic affected around 5% of the population, increased more than sixfold to 31% (95% CI 26.00 to 35.00).

Global Mental Health Emergency

These rates broadly accord with studies from other countries, the authors found. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global state of emergency concerning not only physical health but also mental health,” they said. It “had detrimental effects on the mental health of individuals worldwide”.

lead researcher, Dr Gemma Taylor, PhD, a lecturer in the department of psychology, said: “We all know the dramatic toll lockdown had on our lives, and 2 years on it’s a moment to pause and reflect on some of the long-standing effects this period has had our mental health.

“Our study shows a sharp rise in depression and anxiety as a result of lockdown. These are challenges which cannot be undone overnight. Tackling them will require significantly greater resources to ensure those who need it can access psychological support. Psychological support is not cheap, and services have notoriously been underfunded.

“Whilst there is good news for people’s mental health in regard to vaccination rates and the return to some degree of normality in the UK, we need to be mindful of these possible lasting mental health effects that lockdown had on many of us.”

Future research should be longitudinally based, to explore the change in the prevalence of anxiety and depression across subsequent lockdowns, the team recommend.

“While it is plausible that the population has become habituated to the restrictions, it is also plausible that mental health has deteriorated over time.”

They called for greater availability of evidence-based psychological interventions, like cognitive behavioral therapy, and said: “It is vital that policymakers and mental health services double their efforts to monitor mental health and provide interventions to support those in need.”

1 in 3 Adults Reported Mental Health Deterioration

The team’s findings accord with those of a Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) survey, also published this week, in which 1 in 3 UK adults reported a deterioration in their mental health over the past 2 years. Young people were more affected than older people – 42% of those under 35 years of age said their mental health had deteriorated, compared with 10% of those aged 65 and above.

The nationwide poll of 2247 people also showed that the most vulnerable people were hit hardest. The proportion of those saying that their mental health had deteriorated compared with 2 years ago was:

  • 4 in 5 (81%) among those with pre-existing mental health problems

  • More than half (52%) of adults with a disability

  • 2 in 5 (41%) of those with a pre-existing physical health condition

In a statement, the RCPsych said: “More needs to be done to prevent mental illness. The College is launching the Public Mental Health Implementation Center to improve awareness and adoption of evidence-based programs to prevent mental illness and improve resilience and wellbeing following the pandemic.” The Center will publish and provide advice to NHS commissioners, trusts and others.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, registrar at the College, said: “The pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the nation’s mental health with 1 in 3 people saying their mental health deteriorated over the past 2 years. There are proven strategies for preventing mental illness but a lack of funding and knowledge have stymied progress.

“The Public Mental Health Implementation Center will boost awareness and adoption of evidence-based programs that prevent mental illness. We must learn lessons for the future and the next pandemic. Investing in evidence-based prevention and protection programs makes sense morally, medically and economically It saves money and most importantly saves lives.”

Government Must ‘Wake Up’ to Mental Health Crisis

The RCPsych also reported earlier this month “an advance demand for specialist mental health care” during 2021, with a record 4.3 million referrals to mental health services as the pandemic continued to take a toll on people’s mental health. Analysis of NHS Digital data showed that there were 3.3 million referrals to adult services and 1.025 million referrals of under-18s in England between January and December 2021.

By the time the Omicron variant arrived in December, a record one million people were receiving specialist treatment for mental health conditions, including addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, with 1.4 million people still waiting for treatment.

Dr Adrian James, president of the RCPsych, said: “As the pressure on services continues to ratchet up, the silence from Government continues to be of grave concern for the College, the wider mental health workforce and, most importantly, our patients.

“The warning of the long tail of mental ill health caused by the pandemic has not been heeded. Many thousands of people will be left waiting far too long for the treatment they need unless the Government wakes-up to the crisis that is engulfing the country .”