Coping with the pandemic: New mental health research reveals how UK adults are managing stress

6th Oct 2020

New research from the Mental Health Foundation and collaborating universities reveals how UK adults are managing stress during the pandemic.

  • Six in ten (59 per cent) of UK adults who had experienced stress because of the pandemic said walking helped them cope  
  • Half (50 per cent) of UK adults who had experienced stress because of the pandemic said visiting green spaces, such as parks, helped them cope 
  • Almost half (47 per cent) of UK adults who had experienced stress because of the pandemic said contacting family (eg by phone, video chat, etc) had helped them cope 
  • Almost half (46 per cent) of UK adults who had experienced stress because of the pandemic said contacting friends (eg by phone, video chat, etc) had helped them cope 
  • More than eight in ten (82 per cent) of UK adults have experienced stress because of the pandemic  
  • Walking outside, visiting green spaces such as parks and contacting family and friends are considered by UK adults as the most helpful ways to cope with stress about the pandemic, according to new research by the Mental Health Foundation and collaborating universities.

Going out for a walk is most people’s favourite coping strategy, with almost six in ten (59 per cent) who have felt stressed saying they found it helpful. 

Being able to visit parks and other green spaces is the second most popular coping mechanism, mentioned as helpful by half (50 per cent) of those who have experienced stress 

Keeping in contact with family members (49 per cent) and friends (47 per cent) were named as the next most helpful ways of managing, among those who have felt stressed about the pandemic.  

The findings highlight factors that can help prevent mental health problems and are published in the week of World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10th October). 

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, the Foundation’s Director for England and Wales, said: “The good news here is that at a very difficult time for many of us, millions of people across the UK are using effective ways to improve their wellbeing.

“Going out for a walk, visiting a park and being in contact with family and friends are great ways for us all to protect our mental health and prevent problems. Wider research evidence, as well as our latest survey findings, makes this very clear. 

“Our new findings matter for policy, which can make it easier or harder for people to cope at a time that is stressful for millions of us.  

“At a time of local restrictions, it’s more important than ever that local authorities invest in improving our neighbourhoods and leisure areas, to create safe, green spaces for outdoor activities.

“That is why we are asking the UK Government to take the lead by publishing a cross-government plan to promote people’s mental health and wellbeing. We also want the Government to ensure there continues to be a distinct national body responsible for public mental health in England.” 

The new research is part of the Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic study by the Mental Health Foundation, in partnership with the universities of Cambridge, Swansea, Strathclyde, Queen’s Belfast and De Montfort.  

The latest findings are from a YouGov survey done on 26-28th August, among a nationally representative sample of 4,251 UK adults. It asked participants what had helped them cope during the previous two weeks. 

The survey also found that nearly four in ten people (39 per cent) who had experienced stress because of the pandemic said maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as sleeping well and eating healthily, had helped them cope. 

Almost four in ten people (38 per cent) said that doing a hobby was helpful. 

Overall, just over eight in ten (82 per cent) of the UK adults surveyed said they have experienced stress because of the pandemic. 

Professor Tine Van Bortel, from the University of Cambridge and De Montfort University Leicester, said: “There’s a growing body of strong research evidence about the determinants of our health and wellbeing. That is replicated by our findings. Access to nature and safe green spaces, positive social contacts, healthy lifestyles and meaningful activities are all crucial, for us to function well.  

“There is also strong international evidence that there is no trade-off between public health and the economy – quite the opposite: healthy, happy people make for stronger communities and thriving economies.  

“This has important policy implications. The government should create a sustainable wellbeing economy developed with the active involvement of our communities - and a pandemic recovery plan that reaches right across government departments and society itself. This would also help to tackle the deep inequalities exposed by the pandemic.” 

Today the Foundation and its university partners publish a new briefing about how individuals, communities and nations cope with difficult experiences including the pandemic. For advance media copies of the briefing, please contact our press office.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4,251 UK adults 18+. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th - 28th August 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). 

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 further information, please contact  pres%[email protected] .u%6b" rel="nofollow"> [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 is also using 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.

All calculations about the numbers of people affected were done by the Mental Health Foundation.

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.  

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