Psychologists launch 18-month study of pandemic’s mental health impacts

  • Team awarded funding to extend their study of the mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Psychologists will track UK residents’ wellbeing over time, after initial findings showed a spike in anxiety and depression after lockdown was announced
  • Researchers will interview vulnerable groups identified in their sample to help paint a picture of the nation’s mental health throughout the crisis

Woman puts rainbow painting in window

A team of psychologists at the University of Sheffield, University College London and Ulster University has been awarded over £600,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Research and Innovation fund to further investigate the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 18-month study builds on the team’s initial research, which found a spike in depression and anxiety immediately after lockdown was announced. The longer study will follow the same group of 2,025 adults, representative of the UK population in terms of age, gender and income, over time to assess how their mental health is affected at various stages of the pandemic.

Findings from the initial research are already being used by the Cabinet Office, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care, helping to provide a picture of the nation’s psychology through the Covid-19 crisis.

“This funding enables us to investigate these mental health effects in detail and throughout the course of the crisis – leading to valuable insights for policy makers in this uniquely challenging time.”


The next phase will see the psychologists conduct interviews with vulnerable groups that have been identified within the sample, including older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions. They will also carry out cognitive testing of decision-making processes relevant to the perception of infection risk, and monitor how people are feeling in real time, at intervals throughout a given day.

Professor Richard Bentall, Principle Investigator of the study and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Sheffield, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented global restrictions on freedom of movement, social and economic activity. Pandemics may cause fear in the population, affecting behaviour which in turn may propagate or restrict the further spread of the virus. Social and economic restrictions may also have a major impact on population mental health, especially affecting vulnerable groups, influencing the nation's ability to recover once the pandemic is over.

“This funding enables us to investigate these mental health effects in detail and throughout the course of the crisis – leading to valuable insights for policy makers in this uniquely challenging time.”

A separate study led by the University of Sheffield is focusing on the impacts of Covid-19 on the mental health of young people and has also released initial findings.

These projects are being conducted by the University of Sheffield and Ulster University Covid-19 Psychological Research Consortium – a group of clinical, developmental and health psychologists, as well as political scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Ulster, with additional collaborators from University College London, Liverpool and Royal Holloway and Bedford College.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Sophie Armour
Media and PR Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 3687
07751 400 287