According to new ONS data, one in five adults experienced some form of depression during lockdown – more than double the pre-pandemic rate
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new information about how COVID-19 influenced mental health across the country.
They looked at January to March 2021, a three month period that transitioned from high levels of COVID hospitalisation and death to significantly lower numbers of loss. However, the UK only reopened on 12 April, meaning that people were still in a form of stasis – if they were financially able to work from home or take furlough.
The rate of depression measured in early 2021 was more than double the level of before COVID hit.
While the much of the world begins to experience a life-threatening second form of the pandemic, the UK is two-third vaccinated and individuals are slowly adjusting to new freedoms.
In the US, over 50% of emergency workers reported symptoms of PTSD after facing the pandemic. In the UK, similar feelings of trauma exist among NHS workers and healthcare professionals, which is influencing some of the greatest burnout that the National Health Service has experienced since it was created. Depression during lockdown was a tragic expectation for those who could not take any time away from the devastation of the virus.
In December, 2020, a study found that loneliness was even changing the structure of the human brain.
“In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences. We know these cognitive abilities are mediated by the default network brain regions,” explained Nathan Spreng from The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University, and the study’s lead author.
Who is most likely to experience depressive symptoms?
The ONS data found that the group most likely to experience some form of depression during lockdown are women aged between 16 to 29 years, at 43%. In 2021, women experienced a mass protest against sexual harassment in the wake of a murder. Lockdown also created a time in which to reflect on the conditions of life, potentially leading to increased fears and negative feelings. In contrast, 26% of men in the same age bracket reported depressive symptoms. There is currently no data available on the non-binary mental health experience over this time period.
When it comes to people with disabilities, 39% of them experienced depressive symptoms over this time period.
A connection between money and mental health
The mental health impact of financial security can be clearly seen when it comes to the rate of depressive symptoms in those renting their homes (31%) in comparison to those who were home-owners (13%).
Financial security comes further into play when the ONS figures focus on the most deprived areas of England. Almost three in ten adults, 28%, experienced symptoms of depression in these areas. Around 1 in 3 (35%) adults who said they were unable to afford an unexpected expense of £850 experienced depressive symptoms in early 2021, compared with 1 in 5 (21%) adults before the pandemic. However, for those who were able to afford this expense, rates increased from 5% to 13%.
However, the mental impact on the general population remains to be fully understood, as people learn to process the events of the pandemic, on top of any losses they experienced – inclusive of people, health, opportunities, and memories, because these are the things that curate and protect a healthy mind.