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Depression symptoms among the employed in the U.K. have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic

August 18, 2020, 1:57 PM UTC

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Feeling down? You’re not the only one.

A troubling new report from the U.K. government’s statistics agency suggests the number of people who likely have depression has doubled compared to before the pandemic.

The report from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics surveyed a representative group of Britons age 16 and older in June and found that one in five reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression, up from one in 10 respondents before the pandemic began.

Psychologists and other mental health experts polled by the U.K.’s Science Media Centre said they were not surprised by the results, but they warned that the mental health fallout of the pandemic and the economic crisis were likely just beginning.

“This is deeply troubling. We should not simply accept this as [the] ‘new norm,'” said Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of psychiatry at King’s College London. “It is new but anything but normal.”

The impact has been particularly extreme on groups that already reported higher-than-average rates of depression even before the pandemic: women, those who were financially vulnerable, and the disabled, the report said. But it also flagged a sharp jump in depression in adults under 40; around a third of respondents under 40 showed signs of depression.

One in four women reported symptoms, but women were more likely to report symptoms of depression both before and during the pandemic. One in three people who could not meet an unexpected cost of GBP 850 ($1,122) reported moderate to severe symptoms, as did one in three people with a disability.

While people who were jobless were far more likely than those with jobs to report heightened symptoms of depression—about one in four people—the survey suggested that being unemployed is just as hard on your mood now as it was pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, the number of survey respondents who were working and reported depression symptoms more than doubled from before the pandemic, to nearly one in five.

The mental health impact of the pandemic, lockdowns and economic crisis have been tracked in other countries as well. A U.S. Census Survey recently suggested up to one in three Americans are showing signs of depression.

Charley Baker, associate professor of mental health at the University of Nottingham, noted that it’s important to avoid “pathologizing” what may be reasonable responses to the uncertainty and fear of the pandemic.

“At the same time we need clear investing in services at primary and secondary level to ensure that those who begin to struggle more with their mood and anxiety get the additional support they need,” she added. “Perhaps we—all of us—need to reach in to proactively support people, rather than expecting people to reach out when this may be even more challenging than when in non-COVID times.”

Others warned that the deepening economic crisis, which in the U.K. includes the end of a furlough program that prevented more than 9 million Britons from being officially laid off in the midst of lockdown, was likely only to worsen the crisis.

“The most worrying aspect of these results in my view is that given the financial problems many are now experiencing, an increasing inability to pay bills is likely to lead to ever increasing levels of depression and anxiety,” said Elaine Fox, director of the Oxford Centre for Emotions at the University of Oxford.

“These economic factors are likely to play an important role in the nations mental health in the coming months and years.”