UCL News


Speculation about easing lockdown has increased stress levels around COVID-19

6 May 2020

Stress about catching and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 has risen over the last week amid growing speculation that the UK may ease lockdown restrictions, according to the UK’s largest survey of adults’ wellbeing and mental health during the coronavirus epidemic led by UCL.


The Covid-19 study has found that stress levels are higher among those living with children than those without. The findings also show that although life satisfaction ratings had been returning to pre-Covid-19 levels this improvement has now halted following discussions around exit from lockdown. Levels are notably lower in people living in urban areas, where anxiety and depression levels have also been worse.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation with additional support from Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the study now has over 80,000 participants. This week’s findings are also broken down by gender, those living with children, those who are keyworkers and those living in rural areas, in addition to previous reporting by age, mental health diagnosis, income and whether people live alone or not.

Lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care) said, “Over the past week we have seen stress levels rise and the slight improvement in wellbeing we had seen since lockdown started has plateaued as discussions around an exit have begun.

“Stress about unemployment remains relatively stable, with around one in 12 people worried about their future. These levels are similar across most demographics, although higher in those under 60 and those with a mental health diagnosis.

“Around one in six people are worried about finances, with these levels higher in people under the age of 60, with lower household incomes, living with children, and with a mental health diagnosis.

“Stress relating to accessing food has stayed low over the past week, with only around one in 12 people now worried about it, although this rises to around one in eight amongst people with a mental health condition and one in 10 for people with an annual household income lower than £30,000. It is also slightly higher in people living with children.”

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Based on survey responses from over 80,000 people in England, this research can help identify which groups are most at risk from the social and psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the UK begins to discuss an end to lockdown, this evidence can inform the government's response so that it considers and mitigates these risks.”

The study team has also received support from Wellcome to launch an international network of longitudinal studies called the COVID-MINDS Network. Through the network, dozens of scientists and clinicians are coming together internationally to collate results from mental health studies running in countries around the world and compare findings. The initiative will support the launching of new mental health studies in other countries and show whether actions taken in specific countries are helping to protect mental health.

The UK study is still recruiting and participants can sign-up anonymously at www.marchnetwork.org/research



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Media contact

Rowan Walker

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 8515

Email: rowan.walker@ucl.ac.uk