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New survey reveals toll of COVID-19 on mental health in Wales

11 November 2020

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Wales faces a “wave” of mental health problems in the wake of COVID-19, with younger adults, women and people from deprived areas suffering the most, new research has suggested.

That is the warning in a study, led by Cardiff University’s Professor Robert Snowden and Swansea University’s Professor Nicola Gray, which has examined the pandemic’s impact on the mental wellbeing of the Welsh population.

The findings of an initial survey in June and July (2020) revealed about half of the 13,000 participants reported clinically significant psychological distress, with about 20% saying they were suffering severe effects.

Their paper, The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing and psychological distress: impact upon a single country, is published today in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Professor Snowden, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “While we need science to fight the physical consequences of disease and reduce rates of infection, we also need to understand the consequences actions such as lockdowns have on the mental health and wellbeing of people so that any treatment is not worse than the disease it aims to cure.”

Professor Gray said: “We examined psychological wellbeing and the prevalence of clinically significant mental distress in a large sample 11 to 16 weeks into lockdown and compared this to population-based data collected pre-COVID-19. It showed a large decrease in wellbeing from pre-COVID-19 levels.”

She said the effects in Wales - and by implication those in the UK and beyond - were larger than previous studies had suggested.

“This probably reflects that the current data was taken deeper into the lockdown period than previous evaluations. Services need to prepare for this wave of mental health problems with an emphasis on younger adults, women, and in areas of greater deprivation,” she said.

The project was established to track the impact of the pandemic on people’s wellbeing, examining the prevalence of significant levels of psychological distress and looking at the factors that might mitigate or aggravate that distress.

The 12,989 survey participants were recruited via social media and publicity and with support from large organisations across Wales who shared details of the bilingual survey with staff. It had the backing of all seven Welsh health boards, the four police forces in Wales, the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust and the Fire & Rescue Service as well as many large employers and third sector organisations.

The group has presented its research to the Welsh Government with the findings set to help the NHS in Wales not only understand the issues affecting communities but also how it can shape support services for the future.

The researchers are currently preparing to reopen the survey to collect more data from participants to examine how the ongoing COVID-19 crisis continues to impact daily life, what particular factors act as stressors and further analysis of how age affected responses and experiences.