The coronavirus pandemic impacts on all our daily lives, including our physical and mental health. Some of us will feel the impact more than others, and the support we require will differ depending on our needs and our circumstances.
To ensure the right help is provided we need to understand what is happening at a population level by collecting and reporting on as much relevant data as possible. Health surveillance is a core role for Public Health England (PHE), and that includes mental health and wellbeing. PHE has developed a new routine COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing (MHW) surveillance report. It provides a full and close to real time picture of our nation’s mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
Why a MHW surveillance system is important
Some of us will feel anxiety, stress, loneliness, frustration or will be grieving for a loved one. Some people, for example those living with a physical health difficulty or disability may experience more challenges, and for people with an existing mental health difficulty additional pressures may arise.
Worse mental health is linked with poorer social and economic circumstances. This includes living in poverty, having low-quality or low paid work, unemployment and poor housing. The pandemic is likely to intensify existing stressors, sometimes deepening existing inequalities, and it will also present new stressors for different groups of people.
We need a good and timely sense of the impacts on people and communities. If we understand who the most vulnerable groups are, this will help us deliver a timely response and inform policy decisions for the recovery phase.
How the data and information is gathered
PHE has worked with partners across academia and the public and voluntary sectors to rapidly develop this ‘near to real-time’ population MHW surveillance system.
None of the data or evidence is generated by PHE – our role is to gather, synthesise and present the data and what it is telling us. The remarkable collaborative spirit and participation from our many partners has allowed us to bring together expert knowledge, data and evidence into one place. Together we have produced an up-to-date assessment of the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities across the country.
What is included in the surveillance report
The publication draws together and compares timely data from selected surveys and remote support services, and reviews emerging evidence on population mental health and wellbeing. It presents 7 chapters which will be updated regularly:
- an introduction to the report
- a summary of important findings so far
- a triangulation of different sources of intelligence to provide robust findings for anxiety, depression, loneliness and life satisfaction
- weekly data on a range of mental health and wellbeing measures
- plain English abstracts of recent analysis from relevant research
- service use data and commentary from a range of remote mental health and wellbeing service providers
- a chapter dedicated to the experiences of children and young people
There is also a Spotlight series which will build over time a collection of documents describing variation in the mental health and wellbeing experience during the pandemic.
Emerging findings from the MHW surveillance
Data and evidence to date show that self-reported mental health and wellbeing (including in anxiety, stress and depression) worsened during the pandemic and still remains worse than pre-pandemic levels.
When considering emerging differences across population groups:
- young adults and women have been more likely to report worse mental health and wellbeing than older adults and men
- adults with pre-existing mental health conditions have reported higher levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness than adults without pre-existing mental health conditions
- adults who were not in employment before or since the lockdown were more likely to report worse and increasing loneliness, higher levels of anxiety and mental distress
Other population groups that appear to be disproportionally affected include adults:
- with low household income or socioeconomic position
- with long term physical health problems
- living in urban areas
- living with children
- who have had coronavirus related symptoms
The evidence of the impact of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing of BAME communities is currently inconclusive. We will continue to track the impact and report as more evidence becomes available.
Continual learning and next steps
There is still much to add and lots to learn before we fully understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health and wellbeing.
There are limitations to what we can report and the approach must be viewed as experimental. However, we aim to fill gaps and improve the process as more data and evidence becomes available.
Collaboration with our partners remains key to making the new population MHW surveillance system a success. We welcome feedback on how the report can be improved.
Visit the Every Mind Matters website for more resources and advice on mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.