Longitudinal changes in mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

PsyArXiv

Authors

Michael Daly, Angelina Sutin and Eric Robinson

Publication date

Summary

Objective:
To examine longitudinal changes in the prevalence of mental health problems before and during the COVID-19 crisis in a large-scale population-based study and to identify population subgroups that are psychologically vulnerable during the pandemic.
Design and setting:
Longitudinal observational population study using data from the 2017 – 2019 and April 2020 waves of Understanding Society, the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), a nationally representative sample of adults in the United Kingdom.
Participants:
12,090 men and women with a mean age of 49.9 (range 18 – 92) living in private households in the United Kingdom were drawn from the representative wave 9 (2017 – 2019) sample of the UKHLS and followed up between the 24th and 30th of April 2020.
Main outcome measure:
Mental health problems were measured using the General Health Questionnaire 12 (GHQ-12), a validated and widely used measure of common mental health symptoms in population studies. The GHQ-12 score cut-off (score of 3 or more) for “psychiatric caseness” (i.e. likely to present with psychiatric disorder) was used to estimate prevalence of mental health problems.
Results:
The percentage of participants classified as experiencing mental health problems increased from 23.3% in 2017-2019 to 36.8% in April 2020. In a multivariate mixed effects logistic regression model all population subgroups examined showed statistically significant increases in mental health problems. Increases were most pronounced among young adults, females, and those with a higher level of education. The rise in mental health difficulties was 8.6 percentage points (95% CI: 4.1 to 13.2) greater among those aged 18-34 compared to those aged 50 – 64, 6.9 points (95% CI: 4.0 to 9.8) greater in females compared to males and 4 points (95% CI: 1.2, 6.9) greater amongst those with a university degree compared to others. Additional analyses of the full UKHLS dataset from 2009-2020 showed that the substantial increase in mental health problems observed in April 2020 was unlikely to be due to seasonality effects or year-to-year variation.
Conclusion:
This study contributes to a rapidly growing evidence base suggesting that mental health problems may have risen substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/qd5z7

Subjects

Psychology, Demography, Public Policy, Well Being, Health, Life Course Analysis and Covid 19

Notes

Open Access preprint