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

Millions of UK adults have felt panicked, afraid and unprepared because of the coronavirus 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 (on March 17th-18th), 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 now plans to re-commission the poll at regular intervals, to track change over time.

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

Almost one in five people (18 per cent) had felt hopeless. In addition, almost one in three (29 percent) had felt unprepared, while one in ten (10 per cent) had felt loneliness.  

Meanwhile, more than six in ten adults (62 per cent) felt anxious or worried, according to the YouGov poll of 2,126 UK adults aged 18 and older. 

The Foundation now plans to use the poll to identify specific areas of need, and target effective advice and help to 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 beginning to have a significant impact on 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 are impacts on levels of trauma, suicidal thoughts and mental health vulnerability. 

“That is why it is incredibly important that we act now. We are not powerless. There are many things we can do, 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 is looking 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 are responding 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 helps improve our mental health and the mental health of others.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,126 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 18th March 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).


Notes to editors:

Help and advice on how to manage you mental health during the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

All calculations about numbers of people affected were carried out 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.

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

 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. She is unavailable for interviews at this point, but will be available with future releases of data.