People with long-term conditions are more anxious about unlocking: new mental health research

12th Aug 2021

UK adults who have physical and mental health conditions are significantly more anxious about the easing of lockdown restrictions, according to new findings from an ongoing study of the pandemic by the Mental Health Foundation and its university partners.


of those who are 'very limited' by long-term physical health problems said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ anxious

Over one third

of UK adults said they were ‘fairly anxious’ or ‘very anxious’ about ‘the current lifting of restrictions’


of all UK adults surveyed said they had worried over the previous fortnight about a new wave of COVID-19 infection

Among a nationally representative sample of 4004 UK adults surveyed in late June, 30% said they were ‘not very anxious’ about ‘the current lifting of restrictions’ and 25% ‘not at all anxious’. One third (33%) said they were ‘fairly anxious’ while 8% were ‘very anxious’.

However, worry about the unlocking was significantly more common among groups of people with physical or emotional health conditions, who together number millions.

Among those whose day-to-day activities are ‘very limited’ by long-term physical health problems, 59% said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ anxious.

And among those with a current mental health condition that pre-dates the pandemic, 55% were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ anxious. Also more likely to be ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ anxious about the easing of restrictions were people who are unemployed and lone parents (both 48%).

Across all the 4004 adults surveyed, 40% said they had worried over the previous fortnight about a new wave of infection in the next few months. Older adults were especially likely to be worried, with 48% of retired people saying this, and 50% of people with long-term physical health problems.

The new data were gathered by Panelbase among UK adults (aged 18+) between 18 June to 2 July, as part of the ongoing study of the pandemic.

The research began shortly before the lockdown in March 2020 and is a partnership between the Mental Health Foundation and the universities of Cambridge, Swansea, De Montfort Leicester, Strathclyde and Queen’s Belfast.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Yet again, our research shows that the pandemic has been far more emotionally difficult for some people than others. Often, those worst affected were disadvantaged even before COVID-19, for instance by living in poverty or with existing poor health, experiencing discrimination – or all of these.

“Since the pandemic began, our study has identified particular groups, numbering millions of people – who are more likely than other adults to have lived with loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness, stress and, for some, feeling suicidal.

“These groups include people with long-term physical or mental health conditions, young adults and lone parents. We must ensure support is there for them in the recovery phase.

“Our Covid Response Programme has been established to respond to this need, with our collaborating partners. And we want governments across the UK to follow our lead to invest in preventative work on a national scale for those who need it most.”

Professor Tine Van Bortel, from the University of Cambridge and De Montfort University Leicester, said: “The pandemic has clearly exacerbated existing inequalities and brought new ones to the fore. Unfortunately, the re-opening of society seems to be doing the same, with many more people needing extra support.

“Unless we respond in a fair and comprehensive way, we risk ending up with a more unequal and divided society than ever, as we emerge from the pandemic. This will harm the people left behind and undermine the healthy functioning of society as a whole. The Government should act now, with a clear, sustainable and all-inclusive pandemic recovery plan that leaves no-one behind.”

Total sample size in June to July 2021 was 4004 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 June to 2 July 2021. Each survey was carried out online by Panelbase. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).


Notes to editors

To arrange an interview with one of the experts working on our study of how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health, or for more information, please contact  [email protected]  

The Mental Health Foundation is leading and sponsoring this 4-nation longitudinal study. It is using repeated cross-sectional surveys, via YouGov. Survey participants are different on each sampling occasion but taken from the same pool and always representative of the UK population. The survey covers approximately 20 topics, including the pandemic’s impact on mental health and the key drivers of risk. The lead academic partner is the University of Cambridge. The other academic partners are Swansea University, Strathclyde University, Queen’s University Belfast and De Montfort University Leicester. Ethical approval has been obtained from the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee. The study also uses focus groups to gather qualitative information. We produce regular briefings. Our data can be used to inform policy action. We welcome suggestions for briefing topics that would be interesting and important to inform action.

Professor Tine Van Bortel is Professor of Global Health at De Montfort University Leicester and Principal Investigator in Public Mental Health & Wellbeing at the University of Cambridge. 

The Mental Health Foundation: Our vision is of 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. It is also producing a growing library of information about looking after our mental health during the pandemic. In addition, the Foundation is planning work in England, Scotland and Wales, to give emotional support to people who have been worst affected by the pandemic.

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