Longitudinal changes in mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

October 15, 2022


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a range of negative social and economic effects that may contribute to a rise in mental health. In this observational population-based study, we examined longitudinal changes in the prevalence of mental health problems from before to during the COVID-19 crisis and identified subgroups that are psychologically vulnerable during the pandemic. Methods: Participants (N = 14 393; observations = 48 486) were adults drawn from wave 9 (2017–2019) of the nationally representative United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and followed-up across three waves of assessment in April, May, and June 2020. Mental health problems were assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). Results: The population prevalence of mental health problems (GHQ-12 score ⩾3) increased by 13.5 percentage points from 24.3% in 2017–2019 to 37.8% in April 2020 and remained elevated in May (34.7%) and June (31.9%) 2020. All sociodemographic groups examined showed statistically significant increases in mental health problems in April 2020. The increase was largest among those aged 18–34 years (18.6 percentage points, 95% CI 14.3–22.9%), followed by females and high-income and education groups. Levels of mental health problems subsequently declined between April and June 2020 but remained significantly above pre-COVID-19 levels. Additional analyses showed that the rise in mental health problems observed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic was unlikely to be due to seasonality or year-to-year variation. Conclusions: This study suggests that a pronounced and prolonged deterioration in mental health occurred as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the UK between April and June 2020.

Published in

Psychological Medicine

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 52 , p.2 -2







Open Access

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Referenced by: Observatoire National du Suicide (2022) 'Suicide: mesurer l'impact de la crise sanitaire liée au Covid-19 - 5e rapport'. [Paris]: Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques

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