The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, in collaboration with University College London (UCL) and the SPECTRUM Consortium, has released ground-breaking research shedding light on the rising levels of severe distress experienced by individuals in England since the onset of the pandemic. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, unveils a concerning trend of deteriorating mental health across all age groups, particularly affecting young adults aged 18‒24.
The comprehensive study analysed data from 51,861 adults collected between April 2020 and December 2022 as part of the Smoking and Alcohol Toolkit study. Participants were asked to report the frequency of negative feelings such as worthlessness, hopelessness, and restlessness experienced within the past 30 days. The responses were then evaluated using established cut-offs, classifying distress levels from none, minimal to severe.
The research findings reveal a steady increase in the number of people reporting severe distress, rising from 5.7% to 8.3% during the study period. Notably, while individuals reporting less severe distress experienced fluctuations in their levels, those reporting the most severe distress consistently rose without decline. The most significant surge was observed among young adults aged 18‒24, with rates increasing from 13.6% in December 2021 to 20.2% in December 2022.
The study highlighted the impact of socioeconomic factors on mental health. Participants from low-income backgrounds demonstrated a sharp increase in reports of severe distress, which researchers attribute to the cost-of-living crisis. A survey conducted in July 2022 indicated that individuals living in the most deprived areas of England had to reduce spending on food and essentials at a higher rate (42%) compared to those in more affluent areas (27%).