UK COVID-19 Lockdown and Mental Health

Articles COVID-19

The first UK lockdown implemented on the 23rd March 2020 restricted social activity by only allowing individuals to leave the house when absolutely necessary, and to exercise. It disallowed individuals from going to school, work, or University; thereby only making room for essential travel and movement. Given that, numerous studies have been done to investigate the impact of the lockdown on the population. It has been noted that the lockdown has seriously, and in many cases negatively, impacted employment, livelihoods, income, and personal debt of many people. Individuals are also said to have experienced a substantial amount of worry about any future insecurity and health concerns.

As we are entering a new UK lockdown (November 4th, 2020), there are increasing concerns about people’s mental health over the next 4 (or more) weeks.

A longitudinal study was done throughout the first lockdown, by Pierce et al. (October 2020), looking at the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of the UK population via surveys.

The study found that, after a month of lockdown (April 2020), population prevalence of clinically significant levels of mental distress rose from 18.9% to 27.3%. This increase was most visible in 18 to 24-year-olds, women, and people living with young children.

An additional study by Savage et al. (October 2020), looked at students’ mental health and movement behaviour during the first national lockdown. The study was done on 214 students, with a mean age of 20-years, via surveys. The survey assessed mental wellbeing, perceived stress, physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

The study found that during the first 5 weeks of lockdown, mental wellbeing and physical activity decreased, whilst perceived stress and time spent sedentary increased. Additionally, a positive association was found between students’ perceived stress and sedentary behaviour.

Mental health and physical activity are strongly interrelated; it is not surprising that, as a result, when physical activity decreased, the mental wellbeing of the participants also took a toll. It is thereby important to consider these factors during the new lockdown and try and stay active both physically and mentally.

Finally, a study by Wise (October 2020), looked at the relationship between the UK national lockdown and suicidal thoughts. The study surveyed 3077 adults three times, between March and May.

The study found that rates of suicidal thoughts increased during lockdown, primarily among young adults, aged 18-29. Individuals reporting that they had wanted to end their life at least one day in the previous week, rose from 8.2% to 9.2%, and then to 9.8% over the three surveys. Individuals that reported the worst mental health outcomes in the initial 6-week period of the lockdown primarily were women, young adults, socially disadvantaged people, and people with pre-existing mental health problems.

These studies go on to emphasise the risks and concerns of a new national lockdown on individuals’ mental health. It also reminds us to look out for others during these difficult, unprecedented times. Look after yourselves, support each other and reach out to friends and family.

Brain-Based’s tips for the new lockdown:

  • Keep to a routine. It is important for your mind and body to find a routine. Including a variety of different activities to keep yourself engaged could help.
  • Get regular exercise and fresh air. The lockdown regulations allow you to go out and exercise. You can even exercise with a friend! If you have a balcony, you could consider working or potentially eating your meals out there too.
  • Limit your news intake. It is important to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the world but try not to overwhelm yourself.
  • Relax – give yourself breaks. This is a strange time for everyone, and it is normal to feel demotivated. Try and take it easy. You are not expected to be productive 100% of the time! Be kind to yourself.
  • Stay connected. Have sit-down dinners with your family, flatmates, or support bubble. Some ideas to spend your time could be to perhaps have a movie night, a wine or skin-care night (or both simultaneously?), write letters, calling friends and family, or even getting in touch with someone you have lost contact with…
    Anything you feel allows you to maintain a sense of community, as it has been shown to improve wellbeing.

Please note that if you or anyone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, the Samaritans, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, can be contacted on 116 123 or via email at or For individuals under the age of 19, you may also contact the Childline at 0800 1111. For additional resources, please see below and also refer

Source: Upton High, “Learners- emotional health and wellbeing” (2020).


  1. Pierce, M. et al. (2020). “Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population.” The Lancet, Psychiatry. 7, 883-892.
  2. Savage, M.J. (2020). “Mental health and movement behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in UK university students: Prospective cohort study”. Mental Health and Physical Activity, Elsevier.
  3. Wise, J. (2020). “Covid-19: Suicidal thoughts increased in young adults during lockdown, UK study finds”.  The British Medical Journal. 371.
  4. Featured photo: Gold, J. (2020). “Covid-19 might lead to a mental health pandemic”. Forbes.

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