Mental health and impact of coronavirus (Covid-19)

Research shows unsurprisingly that ‘lockdown’ restrictions and changes to the way people work in the context of the continued and devastating global impact of the pandemic have impacted significantly on staff mental health and wellbeing.

The mental health charity Mind has shared findings from its 2020 report on The mental health emergency with UCEA about staff mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, both across the UK economy and specifically in the HE sector. Mind’s research was via an online survey of circa 17,500 adults and showed that 35% of those in employment described their mental health as poor or very poor. Key factors affecting poor mental health included not seeing other people, not being able to go outside, anxiety about family and friends contracting the virus and feeling bored or restless.

Mind's 2020 report also referred to data from the IES Working at Home Survey Interim Findings which show that:

  • 33% report feeling frequently isolated
  • 29% say their boss is not good at keeping touch
  • 34% worry that decisions are taken without their involvement.

In July 2021 Mind published the results of a survey of almost 12,000 people with mental health problems in England and Wales, Coronavirus:the conseqences for mental health. Mind's research found that those who more likely to struggle with their mental health problems before the pandemic had been most affected.

Mind’s findings from nine of the pilot HEIs in its Mentally Healthy Universities programme cited increased workload, lack of downtime, staff overextending themselves, uncertainty and social disconnection and anxiety about returning to campuses as impacting negatively on mental health and wellbeing. 

A survey commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) at the start of the current government restrictions, shows the impact Covid-19 has had on adults’ mental wellbeing across the country and PHE subsequently launched a new Every Mind Matters Campaign to support mental health in January 2021.

The research found that almost half (49%) felt that the pandemic has impacted negatively on their mental health and wellbeing (53% of women and 45% of men). Of those surveyed, significant proportions of the population said they had been experiencing more anxiety (46%), stress (44%), sleep problems (34%) and low mood (46%) over the course of the pandemic. The following were the most common reasons people thought the lockdown had negatively impacted their mental health:

  • 56% missing friends and family; and loneliness 33%
  • 53% uncertainty about the future; with financial and employment worries 27%
  • 53% worried about family’s safety and health.

PHE’s COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report also highlights that there is evidence that self-reported mental health and wellbeing worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic with psychological distress appearing to peak in April 2020 with evidence of some recovery by July 2020, perhaps back to pre-pandemic levels, which was sustained until September.  Specifically, data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) suggests that, among adults there was an increase in mental distress and an increase in the proportion of people reporting mental distress. 

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Page updated 11 January 2022