A mental health charity has teamed up with academic institutions across the UK to monitor the psychological wellbeing of the nation as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps around the world.
They will conduct monthly polls of Britons living under lockdown and any measures that followso that emerging mental health problems are spotted early on and interventions put in place.
The move comes as Public Health England (PHE) publishes fresh guidelines on how people can look after their mental health and wellbeing during the outbreak. The advice ranges from maintaining contact with friends and family with regular phone or video calls, keeping to a regular routine and sleep pattern, and focusing on a hobby.
The Mental Health Foundation started work on the project with the Institute of Public Health at Cambridge University, and is now expanding involvement to include Swansea University and academic institutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The decision to survey the nation’s mental health under the unprecedented clampdown on movement and social interaction followed a YouGov poll the charity commissioned last week which found that nearly two-thirds of adults from a representative sample of 2, people felt anxious or worried about the outbreak .
“The mental health impact of the pandemic is going to last longer than the physical health impact,” said Dr Antonis Kousoulis, the Mental Health Foundation’s research director. He said the charity intended to boost the number of people taking part in the poll from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to improve their representation. The polls are expected to run for four months but may be extended if necessary.
Kousoulis said the surveys should reveal how people across society are responding to the outbreak in the UK and to news of the virus’s global impact. One red flag will be signs that mild stress and anxiety, which can help by encouraging people to adhere to public health advice, are developing into chronic conditions that can become serious mental health problems.
Participants in the polls will also be asked about the causes of any distress to determine whether the most worrisome issues are debt, job insecurity, home life, concerns about contracting the virus or having loved ones infected, or other issues.
Further questions are intended to reveal how people are coping throughpositive interactions such as social media groups, video chats and help from local groups, and whether there is a parallel increase in drinking and drug taking.
The charity’s latest poll found that 19 to 70 – year- olds were most anxious about being separated from friends and family if they had to self-isolate. Kousoulis said he was also concerned about the over – 90 s, who are most at risk from the virus and may not be well equipped to keep in touch with others online. “We basically have a whole generation that is being asked to stay at home for 12 weeks with even more limited interactions than the rest of us, ”he said.
Pandemics have historically tended to hit poorer regions hardest, and the same trend could emerge with coronavirus. “We know that the risk to mental health is not distributed equally. We know that people who are in poorer households and neighborhoods tend to be more at risk, ”Kousoulis said.
Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said some adults who are working from home or are looking after patients may be at risk of drinking, smoking and taking drugs. “I think we need to recognize that these physical and mental health damaging behaviors are going to increase,” she said. “We need to pay much more attention to this and offer practical advice and support in the weeks ahead.”
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