Wave 10 summary: late February 2021

6th Apr 2021

Emotional and mental wellbeing showing signs of recovery in some areas but not for all

With the government road map announcements, our research shows some positive mental health and wellbeing signs when compared across the year: 

  • Anxiety and worry due to the stress of the pandemic have declined significantly from 62% in March 2020 to 42% in late February 2021:
    • This reduction in anxiety was also recorded amongst those with  long-term physical health conditions (54% in June 2020 to 45% in Feb 2021); and those with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis (67% in June 2020 to 58% in Feb 2021)
COVID Research (Wave 10)
  • The UK population is now much more hopeful than they have been since just before the first lockdown, with 30% feeling more hopeful in February 2021 compared to only 14% in March 2020:
    • Those over 70 years old have the highest level of hope at 38% (from 19% in March 2020)
    • Hopefulness is lower, however amongst some of the more vulnerable groups
    • Only 22% of those with a long-term physical health condition felt hopeful in February 2021 (up from 16% in May 2020), and only a quarter (25%) of those with a pre-existing mental health condition felt hopeful in February 2021 (increased from 19% in June 2020).
  • However – illustrating the mixed picture – feelings of loneliness have not returned to their pre-lockdown levels at any point over the past year. They have risen from 10% in March 2020 to 26% in February 2021:
    • Feelings of loneliness were highest in young people, with 48% aged 18 to 24, which has been consistently higher across all waves than the general population
    • In February 2021, loneliness levels were also higher in unemployed people (33%), single parents (30%), and people with a pre-existing mental health condition (40%)
  • Similarly, there has been little change in the number of people feeling hopeless across the lifetime of the survey, with just under one in five (18%) of the UK adult population reported feeling hopeless in February 2021 – the same as in March 2020. However:
    • Feelings of hopelessness have been consistently higher amongst young people 18 to 24 years old than the general population across the pandemic, with 28% reporting this in March 2020 to 35% in February 2021
    • However, amongst those over 70 years, only 7% feel hopeless in February 2021 – a slight drop of 1% on the March 2020 figure (8%)

Resilience of the UK population is still being tested

The number of people who stated that they were coping well with the stress of the pandemic has fallen slowly and steadily across the pandemic year. In early April 2020, nearly three-quarters of the population (73%) stated they were coping (very well/fairly well) with the stress related to the pandemic dropping to 64% in February 2021. In addition:

COVID Research (Wave 10)
  • Of those who reported not coping with this stress well in February 2021 (18% overall), those who have a pre-existing mental health condition(s) were less likely to be coping very well or not at all well (38%), as are those with a long-term physical health condition (32%). All figures have increased from May and June 2020
  • In addition, young people (18 to 24 years old) report consistently lower coping levels than the general population (64% in April 2020, dropping to 50% in February 2021), whereas older people (55+) record slightly higher coping figures, albeit still a downward trend (76% in March 2020 to 68% in February 2021)
  • However, the number of UK adults reporting that they feel worried about being able to cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic has shown a positive trend across the year, from 53% in March 2020 to 42% in February 2021 
  • Those concerned about passing the virus on to others if they become infected have dropped significantly from just before the first lockdown in March 2020 from 77% worried about passing the virus on to 54% in February 2021. 

Coping strategies

  • For the UK population, in February 2021, the main methods of coping with the stress of the pandemic have been:
    • Going for a walk outside 59%. This has been the top method of coping throughout since April 2020
    • Being able to visit green spaces helped 42% of the population
    • Contacting family (48%) and friends (44%
  • Limiting exposure to COVID-19 news (29%) and maintaining a healthy lifestyle - such as maintaining a balanced diet, enough sleep, and exercise - were cited by just over a third of the population (34%) as popular coping methods to cope with the stress of COVID-19 in February 2021
  • However, unhealthy coping mechanisms were also helping people cope with the stress of the pandemic:
    • In early April 2020, just after the first lockdown, a fifth of the UK population (20%) said they were drinking more alcohol to cope with the pandemic's stress. This rose to a high of 27% in Wave 3 of the survey at the end of April 2020 but has slowly dropped down to 19% in February 2021 
    • At the same time – in April 2020 – nearly a third (30%) of the UK population stated that they were eating too much to cope with the stress of the pandemic. This rose to a high of 40% in Wave 4 at the end of May 2020 but is slowly declining again to reach 36% in February 2021

Suicidal thoughts

Our study has also shown that suicidal thoughts have become more prevalent across the year:

  • Across the UK population, 8% of adults surveyed in April 2020 said that they had thoughts and feelings about suicide in the previous two weeks. However, this rose to 13% in February 2021
    • Figures have been consistently higher across the pandemic for people with a pre-existing mental health condition (30%), those with a long-term physical health condition (28%), people who are unemployed (28%) and young people aged 18 to 24 (28%
    • 7% who said they experienced these thoughts said they experienced them once or more a day or more often
COVID Research (Wave 10)
Please note:

Data on Long Term Conditions and Pre-Existing Mental Health Diagnosis was not gathered until May and June, respectively.

The total sample size in March 2020 was 2126 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17 to 18 March 2020. The total sample size in February 2021 was 4251 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24 to 26 February 2021. Each survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and represent all UK adults (aged 18+).

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