The proportion of young women suffering mental ill health has doubled during lockdown as they struggle with isolation and unemployment, according to a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The proportion of women aged 16 to 24 who said they had experienced a mental health problem “much more than usual” has risen from 17.7 per cent to 35 per cent during lockdown, according to the research based on a database of 12,000 people.
It was similar for young men of the same age for whom the proportion suffering a mental health problem “much more than usual” rose from 14.4 per cent to 29.6 per cent.
Mental ill health was particularly prevalent among women aged under 44, all of whom saw big increases during lockdown – and were generally hovering around the 30 per cent mark.
The IFS researchers said the scale of this deterioration in mental health was “of a magnitude unlike anything we have seen in recent years.”
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Overall, an additional 7.2 million (or 14 per cent) people aged 16 or over reported experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual.”
Xiaowei Xu, a Senior Research Economist at IFS and an author of the paper, said one factor among 16 to 24 year olds was their loss of freedom and independence as many had moved back home.
They were also more likely to be working in sectors such as hospitality, non-food retail and arts and leisure which had laid off a disproportionate number of staff.
Being laid off had a bigger impact on mental health than furloughing, the data showed, while those who continued to work were more likely to be stressed by the extra pressures of having to do more with fewer colleagues.
“Younger people also socialise more so that isolation during lockdown affects them more than older people,” said Ms Xu.
Other factors were having young children or having Covid-19 symptoms on the day of the interview for the research. Key workers suffered less deterioration in their mental health than other groups of the population.
The impact of the pandemic on overall mental health scores was nearly double the deterioration seen between 2014/15 and 2017/18.
Ms Xu said: “The effects of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown on mental health have been very big indeed. Young people and women, already at more risk of mental health problems, have experienced particularly big impacts on their mental health.
“These impacts need to be weighed alongside economic and other health effects of policies as we move out of lockdown. It will be important to monitor changes in mental health and to make sure that appropriate support is given to those who are struggling.”
Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading – here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don’t go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn’t available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.