Psychological distress associated with the second COVID-19 wave: prospective evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

September 29, 2021


In late 2020 a second wave of COVID-19 infections occurred in many countries and resulted in a national lockdown in the UK including stay at home orders and school closures. This study aimed to compare the prevalence of psychological distress before and during the second COVID-19 wave in the UK.

This study drew on data from 10,657 participants from the nationally representative probability-based UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). The 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) assessment measure was used to detect the proportion of UK adults experiencing clinically significant psychological distress. Changes in distress levels associated with the second pandemic wave were examined between September 2020 and January 2021 using logistic regression and linear fixed-effects regression models.

Longitudinal analyses showed that the prevalence of clinically significant distress rose by 5.8% (95% CI:4.4-7.2) from 21.3% in September 2020 to 27.1% in January 2021, compared with a 2019 pre-pandemic estimate of 21% in this cohort. Fixed effects analyses confirmed that the second COVID-19 wave was associated with a significant within-person increase in distress (d =0.15, p<.001). Increases were particularly pronounced among those with school-age children in the home.

A non-specific measure of mental health symptoms was utilized and it was not possible to separate the potential impact of the pandemic from other changes occurring in tandem within the study period.

Clinically significant distress rose during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and reached levels similar to those observed in the immediate aftermath of the first pandemic wave.

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Open Access

CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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