Key indicators of distress among UK adults worsened during the first nine months of the pandemic, with the proportion of people reporting feelings of loneliness and being unable to cope with stress both increasing.
Research commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and its university partners found that the proportion of adults reporting feeling lonely increased from 10% in March to 25% in November 2020.
The proportion who said they were “coping well with the stress of the pandemic” had fallen from 73% to 62% within the same time period.
Those who said they had suicidal thoughts and feelings within the previous two weeks as a result of the pandemic increased from 8% to 13%.
However, there were some signs of improvement. Between March and November, the proportion reporting financial worries fell from 42% to 28% and the share who felt anxious or worries within the previous two weeks dropped to 45% from 62%.
Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were very concerned that the longer it went on, the more serious the risks to our mental health would become.
“Unfortunately, this latest data appears to support that fear. It is clear that for millions of people, distress is not going away and on some important measures, problems are getting worse.
“There is no vaccine to protect our mental health against the consequences of the pandemic. Instead, we need to focus on prevention – including tackling the underlying causes of mental ill-health, such as rising unemployment, poverty and social isolation.
“This is why we need a long-term Covid-mental health recovery plan for England now, and full implementation of devolved nations’ mental health recovery plans.”
Professor Tine Van Bortel, from the University of Cambridge and De Montfort University Leicester, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has eroded many of the things that normally protect our mental health – from social connectedness to financial security and hope for the future.
“Prolonged stress and loneliness negatively impact mental health and also contribute significantly towards poor physical health. These issues will become more apparent over time and will cause a huge burden for individuals, communities, health services and economies.
“While the government has produced a policy paper for England on staying mentally well this winter, we need a more long-term strategy to address the mental health effects of the pandemic, as well as implementation of the devolved administrations’ COVID-19 mental health plans.”
The survey of 4,436 people in November was conducted by YouGov.