UK COVID-19 Update: How Lockdown Affected Mental Health

Tim Locke

July 22, 2020

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

How Lockdown Affected Mental Health

More evidence has been published on the effect of lockdown on mental health in the UK.

The European Psychiatric Association (EPA) 2020 Congress, heard about two UK studies.

Daisy Fancourt, PhD, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology, University College London reported on the COVID-19 Social Study, which included more than 72,000 individuals.

Results showed that mental health decreased in the lead-up to lockdown, with decreases in happiness and increases in fear, stress, and sadness.

At the start of lockdown, approximately 60% of people reported that they were stressed about COVID-19 itself, whether catching it or becoming seriously ill.

During lockdown, there was little change in levels of depression, but anxiety decreased and life satisfaction increased during this period.

In a second presentation, Sara Simblett, PhD, Department of Psychology, King's College London, reported on the Coronavirus Outbreak Psychological Experiences (COPE) Study.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered poorer mental health in the majority of respondents, at 60.8% among those with a pre-existing mental health condition and 64.1% among informal carers.

The Lancet Psychiatry today published results from a study of 17,452 people that found 27.3% reported clinically relevant levels of mental distress in late April, compared with 18.9% before the lockdown.

Sally McManus, joint senior author, from City, University of London, commented: "The pandemic has brought people's differing life circumstances into stark contrast. We found that, overall, pre-existing inequalities in mental health for women and young people have widened. At the same time new inequalities have emerged, such as for those living with pre-school children. These findings should help inform social and educational policies aimed at mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health, so that we can try to avoid a rise in mental illness in the years to come."

Anaesthetists' Second Wave Concerns

A Royal College of Anaesthetists member survey found 44% of respondents were not confident their hospitals would be able to provide safe COVID and non-COVID services under a second wave.

Concerns included a lack of rapid staff testing, and insufficient infection prevention and control measures.

The pandemic also took a toll on doctors' mental health with 64% experiencing some mental distress over the past month due to COVID-19 pressures.

After immediate concerns, RCoA President Professor Ravi Mahajan said: "We must also look further into the future. With waiting lists at record highs, the NHS will be under stress for many years. It is key for anaesthetists in training not to be disadvantaged by the pandemic and that a transparent and flexible approach to re-scheduling assessments, teaching, and training is implemented."

Restarting Care Home Visiting

Family and friends will be able to visit care home residents in England under new guidance issued today.

Before visiting restarts homes will need to carry out risk assessments and make sure it is safe to do so. Decision making will be through local public health directors.

Professor Jim McManus, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, commented: "This new guidance will support directors of public health, working with directors of adult social care and the local care sector, to take a risk-based approach to enabling visits where possible whilst trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to, and between, care home residents, staff and the wider community."

The delay in issuing guidance was criticised by Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England: "This guidance should have been with care providers last month.  We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector."

Rapid COVID-19 Care Home Testing Trial

Queen Mary University of London is running a clinical trial of a new rapid COVID-19 testing system that gives results within an hour. 

Up to 2000 care home staff and residents in 50 care homes in East London will be involved. Half will have tests processed through the rapid Novacyt system and the other half through standard NHS testing. A newer, less invasive, nose swab is also being trialled.

Study lead Professor Jo Martin said: "With rapid daily testing, we can report back to the care home on the same day, so that they can take action to reduce transmission in their care home and prevent outbreaks into the wider community. By undertaking this study in the diverse East London community, we’re hoping to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in the UK, and the frontline staff who are caring for them."

Daily Deaths and Data

Public Health England (PHE) is pausing publication of daily death data after England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered an investigation into its methodology.

However, data are still published on another page with 79 UK COVID-19 deaths announced today, taking the total to 45,501.

Another 560 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 296,377.

Fake News

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has criticised the Government in a new report for failing to tackle misleading online information about COVID-19.

Topics have included dangerous remedies and 5G mast conspiracies.

The Committee pointed to inaction after The Online Harms White Paper was published in April 2019. That proposed a duty of care on technology companies, and the appointment of an independent Online Harms Regulator.

Committee Chair Julian Knight said: "The proliferation of dangerous claims about COVID-19 has been unstoppable. The leaders of social media companies have failed to tackle the infodemic of misinformation. Evidence that tech companies were able to benefit from the monetisation of false information and allowed others to do so is shocking. We need robust regulation to hold these companies to account."

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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