Coronavirus: Nearly half of Britons suffering 'high level' anxiety, new government survey shows

Psychologists warn coronavirus pandemic could have a ‘profound’ effect on people’s mental health

Adam Forrest
Thursday 16 April 2020 13:53 BST
How to feel less anxious about coronavirus

Nearly half of adults in the UK have suffered from anxiety problems because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government survey.

As mental health professional raise concerns about the toll the current crisis is taking, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said 47 per cent of people had reported “high levels” of anxiety.

Over four in five of people surveyed – 84 per cent – said they were worried about the effect the virus is having on their life, while 53 per cent said it was affecting their well-being.

It comes as a group of leading psychiatrists and psychologists said the coronavirus pandemic could have a “profound” effect on people’s mental health.

Writing in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, a group of 24 mental health professionals called for urgent research on the impact of the outbreak and the lockdown – claiming smartphones could be tailored to specific groups, such as children and health workers, to monitor their mental health.

“Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to harm people’s mental health and wellbeing,” said the University of Glasgow’s Professor Rory O’Connor, one of the authors of the paper.

The ONS’s latest opinions and lifestyle survey found that staying in touch with friends and family remotely was the most common action helping people cope – with 77 per cent of respondents saying it had helped.

Financial worries are among the most common concerns. Nearly one in four adults, 23 per cent said the coronavirus was affecting their household finances, while 44 per cent expect their financial position to get worse over the next 12 months.

In March the government announced a £5m pot of funding to help charities support people’s mental health.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said some people were finding it difficult to get help during the crisis. “While it is too soon to see the extent of the damage, we are hearing that people are already struggling to access the support they need,” he told the BBC.

A separate survey by a leading addiction charity has found problem drinking is exacerbating tension caused by the lockdown for more than 3.5 million British adults.

A survey by Alcohol Change UK found 7 per cent – one in 14 people – said their own or someone else’s drinking had made stress levels in their household worse since the shutdown began.

Yet the survey also found huge numbers of people taking steps to manage their drinking more carefully during the shutdown – some 35 per cent have reduced their intake or stopped drinking all together.

For more on managing mental health and other practical tips on coping during the pandemic, you can find more in our coronavirus advice section.

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