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expert reaction to report on reported depressive and anxiety symptoms after COVID-19 lockdown measures in UK

A report, released by the University of Sheffield, has looked at reported depressive and anxiety symptoms after COVID-19 lockdown measures in UK.


Dr Alice Good, Senior Lecturer in Human Computer Interaction and Research Methods, School of Computing, University of Portsmouth, said:

“With the country currently in lockdown, and the varying implications that has on people’s lives, the mental health of the nation is inevitably a major concern.  We have been told repeatedly that the situation will get worse before it gets better.  This study highlights the groups of people deemed to be at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health, notably younger people and that is logically explained by financial implications and childcare.  Social isolation will also be a factor.  It will be useful to see just how people make social adjustments in response to the pandemic.  The use of technologies will inevitably play a big part.  In these unprecedented times, social networking sites have become a lifeline for so many, not least in helping people to feel less alone, yet older people are less likely to use these types of platforms.  The study takes a sub section of society and highlights well how people are responding to the COVID19 pandemic.  The study doesn’t give an indication of the ratio of older people included in the survey, which would certainly be interesting to see in future research.  Furthermore, how older people who may not have access to social networking technologies are coping with isolation.”


Dr Andreas Reif, Head of Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital Frankfurt, Goethe University, said:

“This is of limited use.  It is a self-reported cross sectional study without proper assessment.  So what we see is “depressive symptoms”, or worrying, but this is not “depression” – depression usually does not come over night.

“What we really need are thorough epidemiological studies on depression and suicide (attempts) over time, that also include pre-coronavirus data.  We are currently doing exactly that in a large study, due out in late summer.”


Prof Andrea Danese, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, and Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at the National & Specialist CAMHS Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression Clinic at the South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“It is interesting to see this first report of the psychological responses to the COVID-19 emergency.  Predictably, concerns about the infection, disruption of daily routine, social distancing and other related stressors are reflected in high levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.  It is important to say that these symptoms should not be swiftly interpreted as psychiatric disorders at this stage.  For the vast majority of individuals, these are normal emotional responses that can enhance protective behaviours in the face of a threat (e.g., being more alert to danger, seeking support, limiting activities) and will not turn into long-term mental illness.  Nevertheless, people should be mindful of their psychological responses to understand when helpful responses might turn into detrimental behaviours (e.g., panic buying) and to take positive steps to maintain mental wellbeing, such as keeping active, socialise remotely, and building new routines at home.”


Prof Elaine Fox, Professor of Psychology & Affective Neuroscience, University of Oxford, said:

“This timely survey from the University of Sheffield found that levels of anxiety and depression spiked on the day the Government announced a national lockdown in a group of 2000 people.  What is of great interest, and encouragement to me, is that these elevated levels declined to more typical levels on the very next day.  The initial elevation is unsurprising given the uncertainty and ‘shock’ of the announcement.  However, the rapid decrease back to normative levels shows a good degree of resilience in a population that has a good understanding of Covid-19 and who are taking appropriate actions.  This is very encouraging and it will be interesting to see how this sample react as the lockdown continues.  Surveys like this and the UCL Covid-19 survey ( being run by one of the UKRI mental health networks are very important to give us regular snap-shots of what is happening in the population as we move through this crisis.”


Prof Tom Dening, Director of the Centre for Old Age and Dementia, Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, said:

“It’s a fascinating and necessary study and the authors deserve congratulation for getting it completed so quickly.  I imagine that the government will be encouraged by the level of knowledge and understanding that the public has about an illness that none of us had heard of 6 months ago.  And they are also likely to be encouraged by the general responses of people to the crisis.  It may be a surprise to many that the evidence of panic buying is less than was supposed, or rather less than was portrayed by the media.

“The authors expressed surprise in the spike of depression and anxiety at the time of the announcement of the national lockdown but maybe this is not unexpected as the change was preceded by a sense of foreboding and then the announcement was made in a dramatic manner.  It’s worth pointing out that ‘depression’ probably refers to depressive symptoms, which can fluctuate from day to day, as opposed to the more prolonged mood changes that represent depressive disorders, what is often referred to as ‘clinical depression’.

“From the perspective of someone who works with older people, I found it interesting to note the resilience of people over the age of 65.  Is this because they have lived through previous crises?  Or do people simply get more philosophical with age?  Perhaps they don’t have dependent children or job worries, and maybe there is more stability if your main income is a pension?  I suppose we don’t really know.

“Inevitably there are some gaps.  It would be nice to know about some other things, such as are we drinking more alcohol or smoking more?  Does having a garden help? (I bet it does)  Are there differences between the various ethnic groups in our multicultural society?  And, from my professional perspective, how are those people with caring responsibilities for older people faring?”


Dr Duleeka Knipe, EBI Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow and mental health epidemiologist with a focus on suicide and self-harm, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, said:

“The new study by the COVID-19 psychological research consortium is an important piece of research.  The UK (and in fact global) population are responding to a crisis that is unprecedented.  The impact of the public health measures on people’s wellbeing are unknown and this study provides us one of the first insights into this.  What’s reassuring is that the population levels of depression and anxiety reported in this study are similar to the underlying rates of these conditions in the population before Covid-19 hit.  However, the study does highlight important groups of people who might be particularly vulnerable at this time and public policy needs to think of ways in which we can support these groups of individuals.  It’ll also be important to keep a close eye on population levels of mental distress and coping during the upcoming weeks and months as these physical distancing measures continue.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

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