Coronavirus and the imposition of lockdown this year 'significantly raised' mental health challenges, particularly so for the most vulnerable groups, say researchers. The study, published in the journal American Psychologist, draws on survey responses from over 800 people recruited online and via social media who answered questions over a ten-day period when the UK was in full lockdown.

Results suggest that a quarter of all participants revealed significantly elevated anxiety and depression, exacerbated by lockdown and isolation. Nearly 15 percent reached clinical levels of health anxiety, which reflects that health-related anxiety has become distressing and is likely to be causing preoccupation and disruption to normal activities.

Uncertainty Surrounding Seeing Relatives Again

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Health anxiety focusses on the fear of having or contracting a serious illness despite medical reassurance. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused global uncertainty which has had a direct, detrimental effect on so many people across the UK and around the world," said study lead author Hannah Rettie from the University of Bath in the UK.

People have been unsure when they would see relatives again, job security has been rocked, there is an increased threat to many people's health and government guidance is continuously changing, leading to much uncertainty and anxiety. "What our research focused in on is how some individuals have struggled to tolerate and adapt to these uncertainties - much more so than in normal times," Rettie said.

These results have important implications as we move to help people psychologically distressed by these challenging times in the weeks, months and years ahead. Deeper analysis reveals that those in vulnerable groups report twice the rates of health-related anxiety than the general population. Those who identified themselves in these categories were on average more anxious and depressed, with anxiety and health anxiety specifically significantly higher than in non-vulnerable groups.

Vulnerable Groups at Psychological and Physical Risks

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The findings showed that those who are in the vulnerable group are at risk both physically and psychologically. The average age of participants in the study was 38 years old, 22 percent of whom had a pre-existing medical condition. The majority of respondents were female (80 percent female: 20 percent male). The team who led the work hope their findings can help inform clinical practice in dealing with the mental health aftermath caused by these tumultuous past six months.

Meanwhile, another recent study, published in the journal PLOS One, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and psychological trauma among adults.

Recently, Australian researchers also found rates of elevated psychological distress, including depression and anxiety symptoms, were found among adults during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.