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Young women ‘most likely to suffer depression, anxiety and loneliness in lockdown’

‘Our findings clearly highlight high levels of difficulties being experienced by young people aged 19 and 30, especially young women,’ says report author 

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Friday 07 August 2020 07:25 BST
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A major UCL study found 19-year-olds were most likely to be experiencing poor mental health during the lockdown - with 30-year-old’s being the second most likely to endure this
A major UCL study found 19-year-olds were most likely to be experiencing poor mental health during the lockdown - with 30-year-old’s being the second most likely to endure this (Getty Images)

Young women are the most likely group to have suffered high levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown, a new study has found.

A major UCL report found 19-year-olds were most likely to be experiencing poor mental health during the lockdown – with 30-year-olds being the second most likely to endure this.

Researchers who examined the mental health of over 18,000 people aged between 19 and 62 found that women were more likely than men to be experiencing mental health issues across all ages.

Just over one third of 19-year-old women were suffering from symptoms of depression, while just under one quarter of men of the same age said the same.

Researchers polled respondents from four generations, ranging from people born in 1958now aged 62, those born in 1970 who are 50, individuals born in 1989-90 who are aged 30, and those who are aged 19.

Dr Praveetha Patalay, another report author, said: “Our findings clearly highlight high levels of difficulties being experienced by young people aged 19 and 30, especially young women. More needs to be done to support these age groups and limit the impact of the pandemic on their future health and wellbeing.”

Researchers found that among millennials, 20 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men were experiencing signs of depression, while just over one third of women and one quarter of men were feeling lonely. In stark comparison, only seven per cent of 62-year-old men and 10 per cent of 62-year-old women cited symptoms of depression.

It comes after a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found coronavirus chaos has worsened existing gender inequalities in mental health with women’s wellbeing disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The report, which was released in June, found young women are faring worst while older males are the least impacted – with the overall mental health of women aged between 16 and 24 found to be 11 per cent worse than before the public health crisis.

But researchers found the overall population’s mental health was suffering as a result of the public health crisis – with an additional 7.2 million experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”.

Prior to the Covid-19 emergency, across the world, women were more likely to be diagnosed with depression and to attempt suicide, yet the overall suicide rate for men is considerably higher than for women. But women remain more likely than men to attempt suicide. Adult women in the US reported a suicide attempt 1.2 times as often as men.

The new research comes as councils in England warn failing to urgently invest in mental health and other crucial local services will weaken attempts to help the UK get back on track after the coronavirus outbreak.

The Local Government Association (LGA) argues that individual mental wellbeing is critical to recovery planning, including schools reopening, furloughed employees going back to work, and coping with secondary impacts of the pandemic.

In a joint report with the Centre for Mental Health, it says mental health issues cost UK employers £35 billion a year due to sickness absence, lessened productivity and employee turnover.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Good mental health is in everyone’s interest, especially as we look to move into the next phase of the pandemic.

“The lockdown had a profound impact on everyone, leaving many of us unable to go to work or school, meet family and friends, go to the shops or take part in leisure and cultural activities. The very things that support our mental wellbeing and which we often took for granted, were suddenly taken away.”

Mr Hudspeth argued mental health is “closely linked” to housing, employment, social inclusion and economic development.

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The pandemic has been a difficult time for many. As evidence emerges of a rising tide of mental health problems, it is more important than ever to proactively support communities to have good mental health.”

You can contact the Samaritans by calling them for free from any phone on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.

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