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A Swansea University professor has taken part in research that shows one in nine adults consistently had very poor or deteriorating mental health during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods along with ethnic minority groups were the most affected, say the team, which included Swansea University’s Professor Ann John and academics from The University of Manchester, King’s College London, Cambridge, and City University.

However, two thirds of adults were in groups whose mental health was largely unaffected by the pandemic finds the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The team analysed monthly surveys between April and October 2020 on 19,763 adults to identify typical patterns of change in mental health, revealing five distinct groups.

The unaffected groups were more likely to be older, white, and from the least deprived areas, with men being especially likely to have consistently very good mental health. According to the research:

  • 12% of the sample were in a group that experienced initial declines in their mental health at the beginning of the pandemic then recovered over the summer. Women and parents of school-aged children were particularly likely to be in this group, experiencing significant improvements in mental health around the time schools’ reopened.
  • 7% of the sample experienced a sustained decline in their mental health.
  • 4% of the sample had mental health that was consistently very poor throughout.

The groups experiencing a sustained decline or consistently very poor mental health were more likely to have had pre-existing mental or physical conditions. They were also more likely to be Asian, Black or mixed ethnicities and live in the most deprived areas.

The researchers also found that infection with COVID-19, local lockdown, and financial difficulties all predicted a subsequent deterioration in mental health.

The research team analysed the UK Household Longitudinal Study from the University of Essex and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Matthias Pierce is lead author and a research fellow from the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The University of Manchester.

He said: “It’s clear from this study that in terms of mental health, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic groups, those living in deprived areas, others experiencing financial difficulties and those who already had poorer mental health.

“But also we find a large proportion of the population has remained resilient to the effects of the pandemic.”

He added: “The data we used are superior to other surveys because the UK Household Longitudinal Study uses a high quality representative random sample and includes groups such as the digitally excluded who might not otherwise participate.

“Other surveys, especially those which use social media, are often unrepresentative and can lead to unreliable results.”

Co-author, Professor Ann John, Swansea University Medical School, said: “While it is reassuring that two thirds of adults were largely resilient to any mental health effects of the pandemic and the measures taken to curb it’s spread,  our study highlights yet again the heightening of health inequalities in our society. Those with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions, living in the most deprived areas and ethnic minorities were more likely to have a sustained decline or consistently very poor mental health.”

She added: “While there is much talk of a return to normal, it is vital we recognise these disparities going forward and appropriately address the complexity of the underlying reasons for these differences be they related to poverty, discrimination, access to services, employment or other wider determinants of health.”

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