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Understanding the psychological and social impact of the pandemic



November 2021 Newsletter

 

Over the last 84 weeks, more than 72,000 participants have contributed 1,092,560 questionnaires to the COVID-19 Social study, helping us to understand how the pandemic has affected people across the country.

Below, we highlight our key findings this month on the extent to which people feel in control of their lives compared to a year ago. We also looked at changes to people's financial situations throughout the pandemic, and we've published articles on gambling behaviours during lockdown and on the experiences of frontline keyworkers.

In our "Behind the scenes" section, we feature team members Jo Dawes and Henry Aughterson who describe their respective research on the health of people experiencing homelessness and the mental health benefits of social prescribing.



COVID-19 Social Study Nominated for Award

 

Our directors, Dr Daisy Fancourt and Professor Andrew Steptoe, are among four finalists who have been nominated for the MRS President's Medal for their work establishing the COVID-19 Social Study. Every year, the award recognises an organisation or individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to research. Winners will be announced on 6 December 2021.



Take part in an interview
 

In addition to our survey, we have conducted over 370 telephone or video call interviews that have helped us gain a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the complex issues people have faced during the pandemic. Interviews are a vital part of our study in addition to our regular questionnaires.
 
We are looking for more participants with specific experiences during the pandemic to tell us how they've coped, including:

  • Women who have experienced abuse during the pandemic from a former or current partner (physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse, or coercion, threats or intimidation)
     
  • Third sector service providers who work with people experiencing homelessness and/or domestic abuse
     
  • People from Black, Asian or other Minority Ethnic groups who have a sight or hearing impairment or physical disability that impacts mobility or motor skills
     
  • People with current or recent experience of homelessness

If you identify with any of these groups, or if you know someone who does, we would love to talk to you. Please visit our website or contact Alex Burton: a.burton@ucl.ac.uk for more information. You can also sign up directly to take part here.
 
If you are interested in taking part, the interview will last around 45 minutes and the information you provide will be anonymised and kept confidential.
 
We will offer you a £10 gift voucher to thank you for taking part.
 
Join Study

We continue to receive wonderful feedback from participants 

We love hearing from you so please do keep telling us about your experiences with the study!

“I just wanted to say thank you to your team for really excellent engagement with your research participants. Seeing how one contributed to the larger picture was so valuable to justify the time spent helping out with the research. So, from one researcher to another, well done; this is very insightful for those of us engaging with the public and asking them for their time and personal information, and I think should be woven into methodologies as best practice.” (Survey Participant)



Key findings this month

There is evidence that the pandemic is widening socioeconomic inequalities. Those who were struggling financially before the pandemic have consistently been more than twice as likely to say they are financially worse off than those who were living comfortably.

The proportion of people who were finding it difficult financially before the pandemic and who have reported being financially worse off during the pandemic has remained at 55% since November 2020.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, people with lower household incomes (<£30,000 per year) have consistently reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness. People with lower levels of income are also more likely to be worried about their finances and concerned about being able to access sufficient food. They are also more likely to be physically or psychologically abused or to have thoughts of death or self-harm. Therefore widening financial disparities throughout the pandemic are a cause for concern.

Only about a third of people (35%) say they feel “very much” or “entirely” in control of their future plans, although this has increased from 26% in October 2020. Sense of control varies by age group, with a higher proportion of younger people (35%) not feeling in control of their future plans compared to 31% of adults aged 30-59 and 20% of adults over 60.

Interviews with people who are injecting drug users

"When they take your outside away, when they take all these services away, and take your friends away, your families away, and all the rest of it, and then that person’s stood on their own with nothing other than a drug that’s going to take all that pain away… You’re going to go to that because you’ve got nothing else.”
(Male, aged 45-49
)

Our qualitative interviews with people who inject drugs highlight some of the difficulties this population have faced during the pandemic. For some, lockdown measures made accessing drugs more difficult and increased social isolation and loneliness. Some reported how these difficulties led to riskier behaviours, including increased substance use in response to declines in mental health, changing to more readily available and affordable substances, and continuing to engage in sex work to fund drug use despite fears of COVID-19 transmission. Most participants, however, responded positively to drug service alterations during the pandemic, including more flexible prescribing regimes that allowed them to collect opioid substitution medication on a fortnightly rather than daily basis. Participants reported that this reduced stigma, increased day-to-day freedom and gave greater control over daily dosage.


Behind the scenes: meet our researchers

Jo Dawes is a physiotherapist and lecturer with expertise in the health of people experiencing homelessness and how easily they can access health care. When Jo joined the COVID-19 Social Study, she turned her attention to the mental health and wellbeing of parents with young children. She has also co-authored publications on adolescents and young adults, and she has examined what has enabled or prevented people from social distancing during the pandemic. When Jo isn’t practising, teaching or researching physio, she is either busy with her kids, open water swimming, or on her bike navigating London’s streets or traversing the countryside.

Henry Aughterson is currently studying for both his medical degree and PhD at UCL. He specialises in social prescribing, a method for improving health and wellbeing through GP referrals to community organisations. During the pandemic, Henry has been doing ethnographic fieldwork, exploring the mental health benefits of social prescribing among community groups. He has also led research on how healthcare and social care professionals coped with COVID-19, and he has co-authored papers on the mental health implications of the pandemic on UK frontline workers, people with mental health conditions, and people experiencing long Covid.


Publications

Visit our website to read every report and paper we’ve published since the start of the pandemic. Our latest report (Week 81-84) includes data on people's financial situations and the extent they feel in control of their lives.

We've also published the following articles this month:

Other papers that are in preparation, under review or in press include research on:

  • the experiences of people who misuse substances
  • barriers and facilitators to physical activity
  • barriers and facilitators to engaging with the arts during the pandemic
  • positive coping strategies among older and younger adults


Media

The COVID-19 Social Study continues to feature in national and international press and media. Here are this month's articles:

Follow @C19socialstudy to keep up to date with our latest research and activities. 

The COVID-19 Social Study is part of the COVID-MINDS Network, an international community of researchers examining the mental health impact of the pandemic. Follow @covidminds and sign up for newsletters.

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