Covid-19 Social Study update

How are we feeling 6 months on?
26 October 2020

Interview with 

Daisy Fancourt, UCL


black and white image of someone hugging their knees to their chest


Back in April, UCL’s Daisy Fancourt joined us to talk about her “COVID-19 Social Study” she was running, checking in weekly on more than 70,000 people across the UK. Six months have passed and Daisy’s back to update us on how people are feeling now, especially as we head into winter and what some are calling the second wave

Daisy - Well since we last spoke in April, we've seen that many people's mental health has actually improved quite a bit. We found that anxiety and depression decreased as lockdown went on, and especially as locked down was eased over the summer. But actually as we're now heading into a period where cases are rising again, we have seen that for many people, they are starting to experience higher levels of anxiety and depression again. And at the same time, there's a small percentage of people who haven't actually benefited from that recovery period; their mental health has stayed bad or even got worse since April.

Eva - That's hard to hear... what about those with mental health conditions like severe depression, or bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or eating disorders?

Daisy - We found that people with higher levels of mental health problems prior to the pandemic unfortunately tended to have a worse experience, so typically they've had higher levels of anxiety and depression; but we've seen on average the same kinds of patterns, the same pattern of decreasing symptoms over the summer, as we've seen amongst the general population. But actually we've had a lot of reports now coming through from people with quite specific mental health conditions, suggesting that they're actually having a more unique experience. And for some people that seems to have got worse, whereas for others, they've actually found that perhaps their prior experience of managing a mental health condition has sort of strengthened their ability to cope in a stressful situation. We're doing more research at the moment to try and unpack why some people with mental health conditions have found things better and some have found things worse.

Eva - I see. So in part, having already learnt coping mechanisms for what you do when you're in a dip, you might now be able to apply them.

Daisy - Exactly. But then at the same time for other people, they found that they already were experiencing high levels of stress day-to-day, and therefore the experience with COVID-19 has felt like it's too much on top to cope with. So for them it's actually made things worse.

Eva - What about the fact that mass unemployment, other financial uncertainties are forecast? How might that change things?

Daisy - I think this is something we should be quite seriously worried about, because what we've found from our research is that people's worries about these kinds of adversities - whether it's unemployment, or financial issues, or difficulties in coping with worries about the virus - that these worries are actually just as bad for mental health as actually experiencing these things. And particularly we've actually found that people who have got fewer financial resources are particularly finding this relationship between worrying about potential adversities and poor mental health. So this has a big kind of policy implication because it suggests that it's not just about bringing in job support schemes or fairly schemes to save people at the last minute. It's actually about trying to reassure people weeks or months in advance to stop these adversities building up psychologically and the stress of these making people's mental health even worse.

Eva - And do you ask people in your study, do you ask them what specifically is worrying them? Or is it more "generally, how is your mood"?

Daisy - We do both. So we look at different aspects of mood and mental health, but we also look at particular factors that could be worrying people. And it seems that some of the most common worries have been about employment and finances and also actually about COVID itself. And we found that at the start of lockdown, about two thirds of adults are worried about either catching COVID or becoming seriously ill from it. And we found that that decreased over lockdown and over the summer, but it's been creeping up again over the last few weeks. So I think the population as a whole seems to be getting a bit more anxious as we head into winter.


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