Daisy Fancourt - COVID-19

Psychological Response to COVID-19 & Loneliness in the UK

Akshay Sharan Employee Health, General Psychology

Researchers at UCL have stepped forward in this time of global crisis to ascertain the impact of a pandemic such as COVID-19 on individuals living in the UK. Currently, adult participants living in the UK are being recruited to study the impact of the pandemic. Researchers hope that the data collected could help inform policy and practice with regards to mental health and loneliness in the UK.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Daisy Fancourt (UCL Behavioural Science & Health) states, “This is a very distressing and challenging time, with people having to cope with worries about family, friends, work, and finances as well as increasing numbers of people having to enter full isolation. However, it’s vital that people stay at home,”

“This research will help us to understand what psychological and social challenges people are facing and what factors can protect against negative effects on mental health. The data will be analysed in real time to inform the support people are given and the advice about how to stay well at home.”

The study already has over 18000 participants with more being recruited, observably over various social media platforms. Results of the research could make visible the impact of social distancing & health advice given by government bodies to nationals. Data for the study will be revealed publicly each week with attempts to carry out cross-national comparisons, by liaising with health bodies in the UK.

Mental health & loneliness in the UK has been a key concern for years in the UK. An expansive literature review was written by the author of this article for the purpose of a small research on loneliness in the UK. As of 2018, it is believed that over 9 million britishers suffer from loneliness. The notion of loneliness was initially pursued by Minister Jo Cox through a commission on the issue, up until her unfortunate demise. Upon her demise, John Cacioppo & the Jo Cox Commission quantified loneliness in the UK, as prevalent among 1 in every 4 British national.

Cacioppo stated in his research that modern day existence is far from the community-based lives that humans are meant to live in. He further, specified that loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and smoking (Smith, 2018).

With extensive increase in social media use, there is an associated increase in perceived social isolation as various studies have revealed (Primack et. Al., 2017). While the social media use affects the millennials more, the most affected continue to be the elderly. A common belief held by health practitioners in the UK is that the government does not allocate enough resources to deal with the mental health crisis in the UK. Based on varied evidence, Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness in 2018.

The latter part of the article provides a context in which the latest study on COVID-19 & loneliness can be placed. With a population already majorly affected by a mental health crisis, the impact of a pandemic such as COVID-19 may accelerate mental illnesses & cases of loneliness in the UK.

On the brighter side, an event such as COVID-19 may elicit responses of empathy & a sense of solidarity that could prove to be positive in this fight against loneliness. From a social identity perspective, there may be a shift in salience from being an individual in the UK to the identity of being a citizen of the UK or a citizen of the world. This shift in salience could bring the citizens of the UK closer together to look after one another at a personal level.