Number of adults experiencing depression more than doubles during pandemic, figures show

Young women, disabled people and those in most deprived areas disproportionately hit by depressive symptoms as economic and social impact of coronavirus played out

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 05 May 2021 15:16 BST
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The number of adults experiencing depression in England has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, with young women, disabled people and those in the most deprived areas worst hit, new figures reveal.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows more than one in five (21 per cent) adults experienced some form of depression between January and March this year, compared with one in 10 observed before Covid-19 hit the UK in March 2020.

More than a quarter of adults living in the most deprived areas of England experienced depressive symptoms, higher than among those in the least deprived areas, where 17 per cent of adults were affected.

A higher proportion of adults renting their home also had some form of depression (31 per cent) when compared with adults who own their home outright (13 per cent).

The data also shows that younger adults and women were more likely to experience some form of depression, with more than four in ten (43 per cent) women aged 16 to 29 experiencing depressive symptoms, compared with 26 per cent of men of the same age.

And there was a highly disproportionate impact on disabled adults, with around four in ten (39 per cent) experiencing depression – three times greater than non-disabled adults.

The figures expose the damaging impact the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health, as people struggle to cope with sudden losses of income, as well as the restrictions on movement and social interaction.

Separate ONS figures, also published on Wednesday, show that the number of GP-diagnosed cases of adult depression conversely fell during the first five months of the pandemic. 

This is in line with other non-Covid-19 related conditions, which the ONS said may be due to some people being reluctant to consult GPs during this time or changes in the ways GP appointments were being managed.

Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist at Good Thinking Psychological Services, said the figures showed the “brutal psychological fallout” of the pandemic.

“Money worries are clearly a growing issue for people around the UK, which is a reflection of the economic uncertainty we are surrounded by. People are considerably more worried about their jobs and their income and that can quickly transition into depression,” she said.

“That people in deprived areas of the country are more likely to experience depression is a sign of the differences in opportunity across these demographics.”

Ms Trent said the lack of social interaction will have also played a role, adding: “We are social beings and as such we often get a great deal of our self-soothing from being around others or doing activities outside the home such as having meals out, visiting the cinema or the gym.

“With this being impossible for much of the past year, anxiety and depression will understandably rise.”

Joe Levenson, director of campaigns and communications at Young Women’s Trust, said it was “deeply worrying” to see depression affecting so many young women.

But he added that it came as “no surprise” given the “extreme pressures” facing this group in the wake of the pandemic as they cope with loss of income, increased caring responsibilities and job insecurity.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of disability charity Sense, said disabled people had been “hit the hardest” by the Covid-19 crisis and that the latest figures showed the “devastating impact on their mental health”.

“Many disabled people have been shielding and living without their usual levels of support for more than a year, causing great anxiety and leaving them isolated, lonely and, as this data shows, depressed. No disabled person should have to experience mental health inequality,” he added.

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