The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of young people: a comparison between China and the United Kingdom

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

May 21, 2021



As COVID-19 spreads globally and affects people's health, there are concerns that the pandemic and control policies may have psychological effects on young people (age from 17 to 35). This psychological impact might vary in different countries, and thus we compared the prevalence of self-reported psychological distress, loneliness and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) among young people in the United Kingdom (UK) and China at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data of this study came from two sources. One source was the first wave of COVID-19 study in Understanding Society, a special wave of the UK household longitudinal study, which provided the high-quality, national-wide representative panel data. The sample comprised 1054 young people. The other source was an online survey on the mental health of 1033 young people from Shanghai, a highly developed area in China. The questionnaire included questions on the prevalence of common mental disorders (cut-off score ≥ 4), loneliness and potential PTSS (cut-off ≥ 33). Univariable analyses were conducted to test the differences in the self-reported prevalence of psychological distress and loneliness between the two groups. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were run to explore the predictors of psychological distress and loneliness among all the young people from England and Shanghai..

Among the samples with self-reported psychological distress, the UK sample accounted for 34.4% (n=1054) and the Chinese sample accounted for 14.1%(n=1033). The difference between the two groups was statistically significant (p < 0.001). Additionally, 57.1% of people in the UK and 46.7% in China reported that they sometimes or often felt lonely, of which the difference is statistically significant (p < 0.001). Regression analysis of the entire samples showed that nationality, gender, psychotherapy and loneliness were significant predictors of 12-item General Health Questionnaire scores, while the variables of age and living alone were not. Significant predictors of self-reported loneliness were the nationality, gender, age, living alone and psychotherapy. In China, 123 (12.3%) young people, 49 men (11.3%) and 74 women (13.0%), met the criteria of PTSS symptoms (cut-off scores ≥ 33). These scores were only collected in China.

This evidence suggests that mental health and loneliness reported by young people were lower in China than that in the UK during the studied period. More research is needed to understand these differences. If the differential negative psychological impacts are confirmed, country-specific measures of prevention and intervention should be adopted to improve the mental health of young people under the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Published in

Chinese Journal of Traumatology






Online Early

Open Access

Under a Creative Commons license



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