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04 October 2021

People with prior mental ill health hit harder by pandemic disruption

People who had higher pre-pandemic levels of depression or anxiety have been more severely affected by disruption to jobs and healthcare during the pandemic, according to new research.


The study, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry funded by UKRI, and led by UCL, King’s, the University of Glasgow, the University of Leicester, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, looked at data from 59,482 people who are surveyed regularly as part of 12 ongoing longitudinal studies in England. It found that people whose survey responses before the pandemic suggested higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms were 24% more likely to have had delays to medical procedures, 12% more likely to lose their job, and 33% more likely to have had disruption to prescriptions or medication during the first eight to 10 months of the pandemic than those with average levels of anxiety and depression symptoms.

Those with more severe symptoms of depression or anxiety experienced a much greater likelihood of disruptions to jobs, income and healthcare, the study found.

Dr Praveetha Patalay from UCL, senior author of the paper, said: “Our findings highlight that the wider health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been disproportionately experienced by those with mental health difficulties, potentially leading to worsening longer term outcomes, even post-pandemic, for those already experiencing poor mental health.”

“Our findings show that individuals with pre-existing mental health difficulties were more likely to experience negative healthcare and economic consequences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This highlights the wider health and economic impacts experienced by those with pre-existing mental health problems and the need for policymakers to take this into account when provisioning current and post-pandemic health, economic and well-being support.

Co-first author and TwinsUK researcher Dr Ellen Thompson from the School of Life Course Sciences

She added: “Thank you to all of our TwinsUK members for taking the time to complete questionnaires, many of which have been quite lengthy. We are only able to learn more about the pandemic and its impact thanks to your dedication to health research.”

The work was conducted as part of the COVID-19 Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing National Core study.

In each of the longitudinal studies, respondents answered questionnaires designed to assess mental health about three years before the pandemic on average. They later reported the disruptions they experienced between March and December last year.

The researchers compared disruptions faced by people whose responses showed “average” levels of anxiety and depression to disruptions affecting people with more anxiety and depression than average, regardless of whether they had a clinical diagnosis or were seeking treatment for a mental illness.

The research team looked at the disruptions of the pandemic in three areas: healthcare (medication access, procedures or surgeries, and appointments); economic activity (employment, income, or working hours); and housing (change of address or household composition). They found that people with prior mental ill health were more likely to face economic and healthcare disruption, but had no greater likelihood of housing disruption.

In this story

Dr Ellen Thompson

Postdoctoral Researcher


Professor of Ageing and Health