Rate of depression in Great Britain doubled during COVID-19 pandemic, ONS figures reveal

The proportion of people reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms increased to 19.2% in June 2020, according to the latest statistics.

woman behind frosted glass depression

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Almost 85% of adults who reported experiencing some form of depression said their wellbeing was being affected by feeling stressed or anxious because of the pandemic

The number of adults experiencing some form of depression in Great Britain has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have shown.

The ONS analysis, which was based on data from a nationally representative survey of 3,527 adults in Great Britain, found that the proportion of people reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms increased from 9.7% between July 2019 and March 2020 to 19.2% in June 2020.

Adults aged 16–39 years, females, those unable to afford an unexpected expense or who are disabled were found to be most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic.

Some 12.9% of adults said their moderate to severe depressive symptoms developed during the pandemic, while 6.2% said this was a continuation of depressive symptoms from before. Around 3.5% of respondents — who had previously reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms before the pandemic — said they saw an improvement in their symptoms in June 2020.

Almost 85% of adults who reported experiencing some form of depression said their wellbeing was being affected by feeling stressed or anxious because of the pandemic and more than 42% of adults said their relationships were being affected, compared with 20.7% of adults with no or mild depressive symptoms.

“Humans are social animals whose mental health depends upon frequent interaction with others and with the outside world,” said David Taylor, director of pharmacy and pathology at the Maudsley Hospital.

“Being asked to stay inside with little or no contact with other people can be expected to cause increased rates of anxiety and depression.”

Taylor said that anyone experiencing new depression or anxiety, or a worsening of symptoms, should be advised to increase social contact as far as is allowed and to spend time outdoors, in nature.

“Some people may need short-term treatment with antidepressants,” he added.

Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at the mental health charity Mind, said it was important to bear in mind that there is no ‘normal’ way to respond to a pandemic.

“It’s worrying to see an increase in the number of people experiencing depression. We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health — whether that’s bereavement, the devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, or the recession we are now in.

“We know people already struggling with their mental health or with related issues like problems with employment, housing, benefits and debt have been hardest hit by coronavirus, but today’s figures also show how the pandemic has affected people who were previously well and are now experiencing depressive symptoms for the first time.”

Corlett said that as more and more people ask for support for their mental health, well-resourced timely treatment must be available for anyone who needs it.

“Now many emergency measures introduced by government — such as furlough, emergency housing and better statutory sick pay – have stopped or are winding down, we’re concerned even more people will fall through the gaps,” she said.

At the end of June 2020, Mind announced five key tests for the government, including continuing to invest in community services; protecting those most at risk and addressing inequalities faced by people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; reforming the Mental Health Act; providing a financial safety net through the benefits system; and supporting children and young people.

“It’s crucial that mental health and wellbeing are put at the centre of the UK government’s ongoing recovery plans, so that we can rebuild as a kinder and fairer society for everyone,” said Corlett.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, August 2020;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208279