New 18-month study of pandemic’s mental health impacts launched by Sheffield psychologists

Psychologists will track UK residents’ wellbeing over time, after initial findings showed a spike in anxiety and depression after lockdown was announced.

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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.

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.

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