Heterogeneous mental health development during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom


  • Patrick Präg, Center for Research in Economics and Statistics, ENSAE, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, Palaiseau, France
  • Lea Ellward, Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology, University of Cologne, Albert-Magnus-Platz, Cologne, Germany


The COVID-19 pandemic and the mitigation measures by governments have upended the economic and social lives of many, leading to widespread psychological distress. We explore heterogeneity in trajectories of psychological distress during the pandemic in the United Kingdom and relate this heterogeneity to socio-demographic and health factors. We analyze nine waves of longitudinal, nationally representative survey data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (N=15,914), covering the period from early 2020 to mid-2021. First, latent class mixture modelling is used to identify trajectories of psychological distress. Second, associations of the trajectories with covariates are tested with multinomial logistic regressions. We find four different trajectories of distress: continuously low, temporarily elevated, repeatedly elevated, and continuously elevated distress. Nearly two fifths of the population experienced severely elevated risks of distress during the pandemic. Long-term distress was highest among younger people, women, people living without a partner, those who had no work or lost income, and those with previous health conditions or COVID-19 symptoms. Given the threat of persistent stress on health, policy measures should be sensitized to the unintended yet far-reaching consequences of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

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