Mental health sharply declined in UK young adults during COVID-19 pandemic
Mental health declined substantially across the entire COVID-19 pandemic period, with women, those with higher degrees and younger adults affected most, according to a study from the U.K.
“There have been widespread concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures on population mental health,” Kishan Patel, PhD, of the MRC unit for Lifelong health and Ageing at University College London, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Network Open. “Globally, there is evidence that the pandemic has results in poorer mental health, but much of this might depend on COVID-19 rates and the varying mitigation policies implemented.”
Researchers aimed to investigate alterations in mental health and sociodemographic inequalities from before and across the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cohort study included 49,993 adult participants (24.6% aged 55 to 64 years, 61.2% female, 8.7% from historically underrepresented communities) from 11 U.K. longitudinal population-based studies with prepandemic measures of psychological distress.
Trends in the prevalence of poor mental health were assessed in the prepandemic period (TP0) and at three separate pandemic intervals: initial lockdown (TP1: March 2020 to June 2020), easing of restrictions (TP2: July 2020 to October 2020); and subsequent lockdown (TP3: November 2020 to March 2021). Analyses were stratified by sex, race and ethnicity, education, age and specific country within the U.K.
Multilevel regression was used to examine changes in psychological distress from the period prior to the pandemic across the first year of COVID-19. Psychological distress was assessed via multiple mental health assessment tools, including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and the Centre for Epidemiological Studies–Depression across different studies. Analyses were coordinated, and estimates were pooled. Data were collected from 2006 to 2021.
Patel and colleagues found that mental health deteriorated from prepandemic scores across all pandemic periods. Changes in psychological distress pandemic-wide were higher in women (TP3: standardized mean difference, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.11, 0.35) than men (TP3: SMD, 0.16; 95% CI, 0.06-0.26) and lower in individuals with below degree-level education at TP3 (SMD, 0.18; 95% CI, 0.06-0.30) compared with those who held degrees (SMD, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.14-0.38). Data additionally showed increased psychological distress was most prominent among adults aged 25 to 34 years (SMD, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.14-0.84) and 35 to 44 years (SMD, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.10-0.60) compared with other age groups. The researchers observed no evidence of changes in distress that differed by race and ethnicity or country within the U.K.
“The sustained deterioration, even when lockdown measures were eased, somewhat refutes the notion that easing lockdown measures necessarily improved mental health,” Patel and colleagues wrote.