1 in 5 People 'Could Struggle to Reintegrate After Lockdown'

Peter Russell

May 05, 2021

As the UK lifts lockdown restrictions, a study has suggested that a significant number of people could struggle to reintegrate into normal life.

Researchers have named the condition 'COVID-19 anxiety syndrome' and warned of a long-lasting impact on mental health for 22% of people in a survey who they said considered themselves at high risk of the disease.

Concerns about mixing with others, touching things, and using public transport were likely to feature prominently in the future, they said.

Some People 'Will Need Support'

The study by London South Bank University (LSBU) and Kingston University was based on input from a representational cohort of 286 respondents to a survey carried out in February. The sample was equally split between genders, with a mean age of 46.

Marcantonio Spada, professor of addictive behaviours and mental health at LSBU, who led the research, said "we believe it will take time for some people to return to normal daily life after the pandemic and we will need to support them".

Prof Spada and co-author Ana Nikčević, a professor of psychology at Kingston University, developed a tool last year - the 'COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome Scale' - to enable researchers and clinical practitioners to assess individual differences in COVID-19-related avoidance, checking, worrying, and threat monitoring.

They sought to quantify how psychological distress, including generalised anxiety and depression, experienced by a significant proportion of people in the UK in the first few months of the pandemic, might translate into more permanent behavioural changes when the health crisis abated.

Major Concerns as Life Returns Towards Normal

Among the main findings in the preprint study were that:

  • 54% strongly endorsed avoiding public transport because of a fear of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus

  • 49% strongly endorsed avoiding touching things in public spaces

  • 38% strongly endorsed avoiding going out to public places

  • 14% strongly endorsed paying close attention to others displaying possible symptoms of the virus

It also found that 9% of respondents prioritised reading about COVID-19 over work commitments.

Those most concerned about contracting COVID-19 tended to be younger or were in ‘most at-risk’ groups, such as people with diabetes, asthma, or other chronic conditions.

Those concerns persisted regardless of gender or whether they had been vaccinated.

Prof Spada commented: "The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome refers to how we cope with the fear of contracting the virus. Our research highlights that some forms of coping may exacerbate this fear and heighten anxiety.

"We observed that the higher the levels of COVID-19 anxiety syndrome, the more likely it is that those people will be aware of the threat of catching the virus. This group of people also find it harder to disengage from these threats, which may make return to normal daily living harder."

Medscape News UK understands that the study has been peer-reviewed but will not be published in a journal until August.

Help Available

Public Health England acknowledged yesterday that emerging from lockdown could be worrying for some people and recommended seeking advice from Every Mind Matters. Suggestions included staying connected with others, talking about worries, and feeling prepared about changes to lockdown restrictions.

The Campaign to End Loneliness has also issued a guide to help people reconnect as restrictions are eased.

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