One in 10 people had experienced suicidal thoughts by the end of the first six weeks of lockdown, according to new research.
The study, which looked at three “waves” of lockdown between March 31 and May 11, found the restrictions had a major impact on the UK population’s mental health.
It found young people, women, those from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and individuals with pre-existing mental health problems reported the worst mental health outcomes in the initial phase of the national restrictions.
The research, led by the University of Glasgow, found suicidal thoughts increased over the first six weeks of lockdown, with one in 10 people reporting them (9.8%) by the end of this period.
However other factors related to suicide risk such as symptoms of anxiety, levels of defeat and entrapment decreased across the same period, while depressive symptoms and loneliness remained relatively stable.
Respondents to the study, which started on March 31, were asked questions about how they felt the previous week after lockdown started on March 23.
Professor Rory O’Connor, chair in health psychology at the university’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said: “While public health measures, such as lockdown, have been necessary to protect the general population, we know the effects of Covid-19 on the population’s mental health and wellbeing are likely to be profound and long-lasting.
“The findings from our study, showing in particular the increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults, is concerning and show that we must be vigilant to this at-risk group.
“As we move through this pandemic, investigating the trajectory of mental health and wellbeing is crucial to giving us a better understanding of the challenges people face during this difficult time.
“By having such analysis and information, we can formulate targeted mental health measures and interventions for those most in need as this pandemic continues, as well as being prepared for future.”
The researchers surveyed a national sample of 3,077 adults in the UK, assessing a range of mental health factors, including pre-existing mental health problems, suicide attempts and self-harm, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, feelings of defeat, feelings of entrapment, mental wellbeing and loneliness.
Further analysis into sub-groups showed worse mental health outcomes during the pandemic for females, young people (aged 18-29), those from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and those with pre-existing mental health problems.
Males reported lower levels of depressive symptoms than females.
Younger adults (18-29) were more likely to report suicidal thoughts, with 14% of them reporting suicidal thoughts by wave three.
They also reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than those aged 30-59 and over 60, while those aged 30-59 reported higher rates than those over 60.
Across all three waves, approximately one in four respondents (26.1%) experienced at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms.
Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts compared to those in higher socio-economic groups, as well as those with pre-existing mental health conditions compared to those without.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the Samaritans, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Mindstep Foundation.
Liz Scowcroft, Samaritans head of research and evaluation, said: “The findings from this study are stark and leave us with no doubt that Covid-19 has had a detrimental impact on the nation’s mental health.”
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, also involved the universities of Nottingham, Stirling and Leeds.