The Office for National Statistics said in a special study released Tuesday that 19.2% of adults were likely to be experiencing symptoms of depression in June, three months into the lockdown of large chunks of society and the economy. That proportion is up from 9.7% recorded between July 2019 and March.
The statistics agency, which assessed the same 3,527 of adults before and during the pandemic, said feelings of stress or anxiety were the most common way adults were experiencing some form of depression, with around 85% of those reporting symptoms.
“Revisiting this same group of adults before and during the pandemic provides a unique insight into how their symptoms of depression have changed over time,” said statistician Tim Vizard.
During the height of the lockdown, which was imposed on March 23 and has only been eased over the past couple of months, people were isolated from friends and family, and often alone — an isolation backdrop that has the potential to cause mental harm.
In addition, people have clearly fretted about contracting and then spreading the coronavirus in a country that now has Europe's highest COVID-related death toll with more than 40,000 victims.
Many people have also been worried about their jobs and future financial well-being as the economy nose-dived in the face of the restrictions on everyday life.
Though all age brackets reported higher levels of depression, the study found that younger adults between 16 and 39 years of age were proportionately more likely to do so, with nearly a third reporting symptoms of depression — a generational contrast to the coronavirus' impact on physical health.
Simon Wessely, a professor of psychiatry at King's College London, voiced worries that this occurred even before the recession really bites “when we can expect things to get even worse.”
Though the economy has contracted by a fifth during the pandemic, the government has managed to contain the number of people becoming unemployed by a special salary support program that has been used by over a million firms to retain more than 9 million workers, who may otherwise have been fired. With the Job Retention Scheme due to end in October, there are worries that many of those jobs will be lost. In addition, there are many younger people joining the labor market at a particularly inopportune time.
Vizard said younger adults, women or disabled people were the “most likely" to experience some form of depression during the pandemic, along with those who were not able to afford a one-off but necessary purchase worth at least 850 pounds ($1,100).
According to the study, one in eight adults, or 12.9%, developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the pandemic, while a further 6.2% of the population continued to experience this level of depressive symptoms from before. It also found that around 3.5% of sufferers saw an improvement during the pandemic.
Charley Baker, associate professor of mental health at the University of Nottingham, said the study's findings were “unsurprising" and that those highlighted as struggling the most are those already deemed to be more vulnerable to symptoms such as low mood, anxiety and poorer well-being.
“Perhaps we — all of us — need to reach in to proactively support people, rather than expecting people to reach out when this may be even more challenging than when in non-COVID times,” she said.
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