Millions of UK adults have felt panicked, afraid and unprepared as a result of the coronavirus pandemic - new poll data reveal impact on mental health

26th Mar 2020

Millions of UK adults have felt panicked, afraid and unprepared because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to polling data from a new longitudinal study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge.

The poll data was collected more than a week ago (from 17 to 18 March), in a relatively early stage of the crisis. It has raised concern about the potential long-term scale of the impact on mental health.

The charity plans to re-commission the poll regularly to track change over time.

According to the poll, at that time, over one in five (22%) of UK adults had felt panicked, and three in ten (30%) had felt afraid because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost one in five people (18%) had felt hopeless. In addition, almost one in three (29%) felt unprepared, while one in ten (10%) felt lonely.  

Meanwhile, more than six in ten adults (62%) felt anxious or worried, according to the YouGov poll of 2126 UK adults aged 18 and older. 

The Foundation plans to use the poll to identify specific areas of need, target effective advice and help tackle mental health problems.

The Mental Health Foundation offers mental health advice around key areas affected by the pandemic – which can be found here.

Mental Health Foundation Director of Research Dr Antonis Kousoulis said: “This poll was carried out before full lockdown was introduced. Even then, there were clear indications that the pandemic was significantly affecting the nation’s mental health.

“The concern is that the longer these levels of mental health problems continue, the worse they become for many people. Among the issues, we will need to monitor the effects on trauma, suicidal thoughts and mental health vulnerability levels. 

“That is why it is incredibly important that we act now. We are not powerless. We can do many things, individually and collectively, to tackle and prevent mental health problems, with much help and advice available.”

The charity is currently also analysing data it has collected on the impact of financial worries, loss of control, underlying health problems, discrimination and family separation.

In addition, it looks at people’s willingness to volunteer and show empathy with others. 

Dr Kousoulis said: “We are still at the beginning of getting a better picture of how people respond to this crisis.

“But it’s important to recognise there is also good news here. There are strong indications from the data that people have empathy for others and are willing to volunteer to help them. 

“Volunteering is one of the things that research shows help improve our mental health and the mental health of others.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2126 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17 to 18 March 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and represent all UK adults (aged 18+).


Notes to editors:

All calculations about the number of people affected were carried out by the Mental Health Foundation.

The Mental Health Foundation: Our vision is for good mental health for all. The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems. We will drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk. The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.

For interviews and information, please contact [email protected] or call 07702 873939. You can also email Rachel Baird at [email protected] .

The lead partner researcher at the University of Cambridge is Prof Tine van Bortel, Principal Investigator in Public Mental Health and Director of Research in Global Public Health, Cambridge Institute of Public Health. At this point, she is unavailable for interviews but will be available with future data releases.

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