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Understanding the psychological and social impact of the pandemic

COVID Social Study - January 2021


Welcome to the seventh COVID Social Study Newsletter. Over 72,000 participants have now contributed over 850,000 questionnaires over the last 45 weeks. Through this, we continue to gather critical information on the psychological and social impact of the pandemic in the UK. 

Below, we highlight some of the headline findings, provide links to media coverage, and discuss the work we are doing with policy makers and organisations across the UK. 

We have conducted 215 telephone or video call interviews but we are still looking for more participants from specific groups to tell us about their experiences during the pandemic (in return for a £10 gift voucher).

  • People who have had confirmed/suspected COVID-19 and who are experiencing longer term symptoms (long COVID). We are particularly missing the views of men and people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups 

If you identify with any of these groups, or if you know anyone who does and who would like further information about the telephone interview study, please contact Alex Burton.

We continue to receive wonderful feedback from participants. We love hearing from you so please do keep telling us your experiences from the study!

Many thanks for the research yourself and your team are doing on the COVID-19 Social Study.  It is remarkably useful for the public health effort to combat Covid-19.” 
UK Public Health Scientist 


Key Findings 

Some insights into this month's findings…

Compliance has been increasing since September, especially as stricter measures have been brought in, with particular improvements since the start of December when news of the new variant became widespread. 96% of people report broadly following the rules, while 56% report completely following them with no modifications at all.

“I tried to stay at least two metres away from people, I didn’t meet people unnecessarily that I didn’t need to. I think later on when the lockdown started to get eased I did go and see a few friends, and I remember at first it was a bit awkward because you don’t know how close you can get to each other, or how comfortable.” (Female, age 20, interviewed in November 2020)

Only 1 in 3 people have said they requested a test every time they developed symptoms of COVID-19. Young people are more likely to request tests with 42% requesting a test every time they had symptoms compared with 18% of adults over the age 60. Older adults have cited challenges including tests being unavailable, being asked to travel large distances for a test, not having transport to get to the test centre, and not being well enough to travel for a test.

“I had some symptoms, I was a bit like, oh, I’ll get tested. And then, when I got the test, then we all locked down. We didn’t leave the flat for a few weeks”. (Female, age 18, interviewed in October 2020)

At the start of lockdown in March 2020, 67% of adults were worried about family or friends. Over the summer, these numbers decreased to around 43%. However, as virus cases have increased and new restrictions have been brought in, levels have risen again, with 1 in 2 people concerned about their friends and relatives.

“A lot of people were scared for their families. In general, a lot of people were scared for their parents because a lot of us have got elderly parents and we weren’t happy about what was going on”. (Keyworker, male, age 45, interviewed in November 2020)

Life satisfaction has decreased since stricter rules were brought in across December, with levels now comparable to those during lockdown in the spring of 2020. Levels of life satisfaction are markedly lower amongst people with an existing mental health condition.

“Many, many times I feel much more stressful than I was at the beginning around March, April time. And I know my wife told me that I was so relaxed at the beginning, and now that I have feedback from her - is I feel much stressful and much more tired, much more” (Key worker, male, age 33, interviewed January 2021)

People have reported that their levels of social support (whether they have family, friends or neighbours to help them when needed) have been relatively constant across the pandemic. However, people living alone, with lower household income, and with a diagnosed mental or physical health condition have received consistently lower support and greater social isolation.

“My network has been taken away...all of that has been removed. So, I felt quite isolated. Even though people are here, I felt very isolated. Sometimes you can be more alone and actually, I’ve probably felt more alone now, apart from the social media contact that I’ve had.” (Keyworker, female, age 45, interviewed in July 2020)

To see more results and further detail of the findings and methods, visit our website and download our weekly reports.  

Research Updates 

In the last two months we have published new pre-prints on the Covid-19 Social Study data including:

  • Mental health in long-term conditions
  • Coping with mental illness
  • Gambling during lockdown
  • Mental health in older adults
  • Mental health in freelancers
  • Smoking and vaccine update
  • Mental health service use
  • Mental health of carers

Some of our existing pre-prints have also been accepted & published in peer-reviewed journals, including:

  • Vaccine attitudes - The Lancet Regional Health Europe 
  • Trajectories of depression & anxiety - Lancet Psychiatry
  • Adversities in mental health - Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health
  • Social relationships & depression - Psychological Medicine
  • Mental health in Europe - The Lancet Regional Health Europe 

These can be viewed here. Further papers are in preparation, under review, or in press and will be added shortly. These include papers focusing on weight and diet during lockdown, people’s attitudes to the handling of the pandemic, the relationship between going outdoors during lockdowns and mental health, and the qualitative experiences of key workers amongst others.



As well as presenting results and providing data to government and a number of policy and third sector bodies every week, in the last month we have also contributed to the Lancet Mental Health Task Force on COVID-19 and the World Happiness Report. We have also been providing data for more SAGE and SPI-B documents.

Please contact us if you would like us to connect with another group to support efforts relating to the pandemic. 

The Covid-19 Social Study continues to feature in national and international press & media - some examples are below.

COVID-19: Compliance with restrictions at highest point since first lockdown, new data reveals
See article 


Experts hail England's lockdown compliance but calls for 'tightening up' on outdoor meet-ups 
See article


 People started breaking Covid rules when they saw those with privilege ignore them
See article

COVID Minds Network 

The Covid-19 Social Study is part of the international COVID-MINDS Network, which is cataloguing longitudinal studies on mental health during Covid-19 internationally. You can see details of studies on the website, as well as links to empirical papers and resources and sign up for network newsletters.
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