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COVID-19 restrictions not directly linked to distress in England

Published: 05 August 2022

People in England continued to feel distressed even after all legal COVID-19 restrictions ended in February 2022, suggests new research funded by the NIHR.

The CORSAIR study was led by UCL and King’s College London researchers. It examined data collected from online surveys of over 41,000 participants over the age of 16 between April 2020 and April this year.

Psychological distress and wellbeing

The study found psychological distress was higher than normal throughout the pandemic, mirroring the pattern of restrictions and case numbers. But there were also notable exceptions which indicated that other factors may have been at play.

Between April 2020 and April 2022, 50%-60% of women and 40%-50% of men reported signs of distress, compared to 25%-30% of women and 20%-25% of men before the pandemic.

People felt distressed after hospitality venues reopened and after legal restrictions were lifted.

Wellbeing also suffered throughout the pandemic and was lowest in the first and third lockdown.

Wellbeing peaked in June 2020 while people in England were still living under strict lockdown measures. Although previous research has suggested that this may have been down to the warm and sunny weather experienced at that time.

Senior author Professor Henry Potts, from the UCL Institute of Health Informatics, said: “Rates of psychological distress in the English population have been high and stayed high during the pandemic with only minor fluctuations.

“Some politicians and commentators have concluded that mental health problems are a result of lockdowns. But, our research shows that there is not a simple relationship between the two.

“And, as levels of psychological distress continued to be high up until as recently as April 2022, we urge that more needs to be done to support the mental health and wellbeing of the population following a turbulent two years.”

Study limitations

The sample population included a marginally higher percentage of women than men and respondents were more likely to be white.

Researchers cannot be certain that the experiences of people who complete online surveys are representative of the general population.

There was also no pre-pandemic data and wellbeing was not measured during the second national lockdown.

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