Anxiety levels doubled in young people following COVID-19 lockdown, says study
Press release issued: 19 June 2020
Young people’s anxiety levels have doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic with 24 per cent experiencing anxiety up from 13 per cent in pre-pandemic waves, according to research from the University of Bristol.
Please note this is a preprint, so it is a preliminary piece of research that has not yet been through peer review and has not been published in a scientific journal – so this is early data.
The Children of the 90s COVID-19 questionnaire data also showed that young people (27-29 years) reported higher levels of anxiety than their parents. While 27-29 year olds saw anxiety levels rise, the older generation reported a much lower frequency of anxiety to their children’s generation, which was similar to pre-pandemic levels. There was no evidence that depression levels are any higher overall, however, importantly, specific groups of individuals were still at higher risk of both depression and anxiety in the COVID-19 period.
With decades of data about participants - who have been followed since their birth in the early 1990s by the health study - researchers could see the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on mental health in the different generations.
The first COVID-19 questionnaire (9 April-15 May), funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, gathered information from 7,000 participants about their COVID-19 symptoms, mental health and their lifestyle, both before and during lockdown. A second questionnaire - out now - will delve into greater detail about participants’ work, finances, lifestyle, diet and seek to understand more about theirs and their children’s physical and mental health.
Longitudinal data from studies like Children of the 90s – that track changes in health and lifestyle over time during the pandemic and phases of lockdown – are uniquely placed to provide evidence to policymakers at Public Health England and within government.
Who is at risk of poorer mental health during COVID-19?
Whatever the overall pattern of changes to depression and anxiety in both generations, there were certain groups within the population that were at greater risk of increased anxiety and/or depression during COVID-19, even after accounting for their previous history of depression and anxiety. These were women, those with pre-existing mental and physical health conditions, those living alone, those self-isolating as a result of COVID-19 and those who had experienced recent financial problems. Interestingly, some factors, such as living alone, were only linked to greater depression and others, such as being a parent, only linked to anxiety. These findings were observed in both the younger and older generations.
Researchers did not find evidence of an elevated risk of anxiety in key workers or health care workers, however the impact of occupation on anxiety levels will be explored in the second questionnaire - where more details on specific jobs will be explored along with further questions about the factors behind increased anxiety.
Co-lead researcher Alex Kwong, Senior Research Associate in Psychiatric Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Bristol, commented: “This rise in anxiety leads to more questions we will seek to answer in the second Children of the 90s questionnaire. Getting a good response to this is so important to give researchers a clearer picture of the factors behind a rise in anxiety – whether it’s a fear of the virus itself, or the financial difficulties or social isolation it may have caused.”
COVID-19 in Children of the 90s
As might be expected in a study heavily based in the south west of England, only a small percentage had tested positive for COVID-19, but a larger and more representative number of participants have experienced at least one of the primary COVID-19 symptoms – loss of smell/taste (13 per cent), new persistent cough (21 per cent) or fever (23 per cent). It was estimated that around 4 per cent of participants had actually had COVID-19.
Co-lead researcher Rebecca Pearson, Senior Lecturer in Psychiatric Epidemiology and the University of Bristol said: “The findings suggest that there is a need to protect mental health at this time (especially managing anxiety) and support mental health services. The findings also provide evidence for specific groups at greater mental health risk, such as those living alone. This could suggest that policy changes such as the recent introduction of 'supportive bubbles' for single adults and single parents, could be beneficial to mental health, but we need to understand the role of social isolation better and further provision for those most isolated may be needed”.
Still more to learn
Researchers still need as many Children of the 90s participants as possible to complete the study’s second questionnaire, which is online until 29 June. Researchers are keen to understand the reasons behind such big changes in mental health, as well as understanding how participants and their families are affected by schools re-opening or going back to work.
“The questionnaire data Children of the 90s participants give today could well be in the hands of government policymakers in a matter of days”, commented Professor Nic Timpson, scientific lead of Children of the 90s.
“Never before have our participants had an opportunity to impact science and policy change as it happens. This pandemic is affecting all our lives and we have an opportunity to learn much more about COVID-19 and its impact. Please get in touch to play your part in this important study,” Timpson said.
If you (or someone you know) were born in the Bristol area (including Weston and South Glos) between April 1991 and December 1992 please text your full name and date of birth to 07772 909090 or visit childrenofthe90s.ac.uk
Pre Print Paper
'Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in two longitudinal UK population cohorts' by Alex et al in medrXiv
About Children of the 90s
Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents, their children and now their grandchildren in detail ever since. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol.
About Elizabeth Blackwell Institute
Nurturing research. Improving health.
The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute drives innovation in research to improve health for all. It nurtures interdisciplinary research to address the complex health challenges facing us today.
The institute focuses on:
• Supporting the next generation of health researchers
• Connecting people to develop interdisciplinary research
• Including everyone in research so the research can benefit all.
Support University of Bristol COVID-19 research
University of Bristol researchers are part of a global network of scientists responding urgently to the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.