The first lockdown due to COVID-19 started in the Uk precisely two years ago, on 23rd March 2020. According to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, this had a profound effect on the general population even if they didn’t contract the virus, with significant increases in cases of anxiety and depression. Researchers from the University of Bath, UK, believe restrictions and isolation caused this increase.
Before the pandemic, the incidence of diagnosed depression was about 4%, but this increased to a staggering 32% during lockdown. Likewise, cases of anxiety represented about 5%, but this value jumped to 31%.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), symptoms of depression include persistent low mood and sadness, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms of anxiety include worrying about daily life and work in a way that becomes stressful and uncontrollable.
The research team reviewed results from 14 studies involving over 45,000 participants. One of the main consequences of the lockdown was an increased inability to think clearly or have a good night’s sleep. The authors believe this was caused by social isolation and uncertainty about the future, both about dying with the virus and losing a job.
And while restrictions are finally being lifted and the number of casualties is dropping, the team argues that the impact could be more long-term than expected and needs to be addressed urgently. As such, they’re calling for more psychological interventions to be offered to patients, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The researchers defend it’s vital for policymakers and mental health services increase their efforts to monitor mental health in the general population and provide support as needed.
“We all know the dramatic toll lockdown had on our lives, and two years on, it’s a moment to pause and reflect on what some of the long-standing effects this period has had on our mental health. Our study shows a sharp rise in depression and anxiety due to lockdown. These are challenges which cannot be undone overnight. Tackling them will require significantly greater resources to ensure those who need it can access psychological support. Psychological support is not cheap, and services have notoriously been underfunded,” said lead researcher Dr. Gemma Taylor from the University of Bath.
“Whilst there is good news for people’s mental health in regard to vaccination rates and the return to some degree of normality in the UK, we need to be mindful of these possible lasting mental health effects that lockdown had on many of us.”
Dettmann L, Adams S, Taylor G (2022) Investigating the prevalence of anxiety and depression during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom: Systematic review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12360