In a new UK study, researchers found that there was a spike in the number of people reporting strong levels of depression and anxiety immediately following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a lockdown on 23 March.
On Tuesday 24 March, 38% of study participants reported strong depression and 36% reported strong anxiety.
On the day before the announcement, 16% reported significant depression and 17% reported significant anxiety.
Rates remained elevated later in the week, but not as high as immediately after the announcement, with just over 20% on each subsequent day reporting big levels of depression and anxiety.
The findings indicated that many people are nonetheless remaining resilient and faring well – and that almost everyone is following government advice to avoid spreading the virus.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Sheffield and Ulster University.
The team of experts carried out a psychological survey of 2,000 people between Monday 23 March and Friday 27 March.
Participants were asked in an online survey about their current circumstances, their understanding of COVID-19, what they are doing to cope, and psychological symptoms.
Across the week, the study found that 25% of women and 18% of men exhibited clinically meaningful symptoms of anxiety, 23% of women and 21% of men showed signs of depression, and 15% of women and 19% of men were stressed.
These results are elevated compared to those of similar surveys from before the coronavirus crisis, but not dramatically so.
However, those aged under 35, living in a city, living alone or with children, with lower incomes, with health conditions and those whose incomes had been hit by the pandemic had higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Those who felt that they belonged to their neighborhood and who trusted their neighbors had lower levels of anxiety and depression.
The study found that 32% of people had already lost income due to the pandemic, but when asked to rate their level of worry about the financial impact so far, the average response was a high level of worry.
The team asked participants how much they had increased their purchasing of key supplies because of the pandemic.
While around 30% had bought extra dried food, tinned food, and toilet roll, most people reported very little excess buying and almost a quarter (23.6%) reported none at all.
The study found a modest correlation between anxiety about COVID-19 and over-purchasing.
The population was found to have a good understanding of COVID-19 symptoms and how to avoid spreading it – with over 90% of those surveyed correctly identifying symptoms such as coughing and a fever, and recognizing that it can spread through people coughing or sneezing.
Almost 95% of participants said they had started washing their hands more often, 91% said they covered their nose or mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing and sneezing, and 78% were disinfecting household surfaces more frequently.
The initial results show a majority of the population taking further steps to protect their health – with 69% ensuring they get enough sleep and two-thirds saying they are eating a more balanced diet.
About 70% said that they would definitely want to be vaccinated, or would want their children to be vaccinated, against the coronavirus if this was available.
However, on average people thought their risk of catching the virus in next month was less than 50%.
When asked where they get their information about the epidemic and what sources of information they trust, people scored their doctor and other health professionals as the most trustworthy – but said they get most of their information from the television.
The team will survey the same group again in the coming months to see how their experiences, beliefs and mental health symptoms change as the pandemic progresses in the UK, and to compare their results with parallel surveys being conducted by research partners in other countries.
The lead author of the study is Professor Richard Bentall at the University of Sheffield.
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