One in nine adults consistently had very poor or deteriorating mental health during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic, analysis of consecutive surveys suggests.
Researchers who looked at data from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey from late April to early October 2020 and compared it with previous years said those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods along with ethnic minority groups were most affected.
The findings, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, show that overall impact on mental health started to recover in July 2020, which is later than previously reported, and that it continued to improve through to October 2020, although not to pre-pandemic levels.
But there were vast differences in experience, the data from monthly surveys on almost 20,000 adults suggested, with five distinct groups in terms of mental health impact.
The majority had consistently good (39·3%) or very good (37·5%) mental health.
A further 12% of those surveyed experienced initial declines in their mental health at the beginning of the pandemic but recovered over the summer with women and parents of school-aged children were particularly likely to be in this group, the researchers said.
In all, 7% of participants experienced a sustained decline in their mental health and 4% of had mental health that was consistently very poor throughout, the team from The University of Manchester, King’s College London, Cambridge, Swansea and City University, reported.
Those with a sustained decline or consistently very poor mental health were more likely to have had pre-existing mental or physical conditions, the study found, and were also more likely to be Asian, Black or mixed ethnicities, and live in the most deprived areas.
More detailed analysis showed that Covid-19 infection, living in local lockdown and financial difficulties all predicted a subsequent deterioration in mental health.
It follows warnings from the RCGP that managing an increasing number of patients with mental health problems is contributing to GP stress.
Lead author, Dr Matthias Pierce, a research fellow from the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The University of Manchester said it was clear that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic groups, those living in deprived areas, others experiencing financial difficulties and those who already had poorer mental health.
‘But also we find a large proportion of the population has remained resilient to the effects of the pandemic.’
Co-author, Professor Kathryn Abel, also from the University of Manchester added: ‘For people in ethnic minorities, their experience of the pandemic has meant dealing with both existing discrimination and inequalities alongside higher risks of severe illness, disability and, of course, death.
‘We must respond by making sure services are aware of these disparities and that their offerings are culturally sensitive and appropriate for the complexity of unmet need.’