Spotlight On..Mental Health and Covid 19

Most research on COVID-19 and mental health to date has been conducted in China (Rajkumar, 2020), with very little research yet to come out of the UK due to differences in publication processes and timeframes. There are not only cultural differences to consider in the way that mental health is understood, but also practical differences in the way that the COVID-19 outbreak occurred and was subsequently dealt with across the different parts of the world. In the following summary of existing research on COVID-19 and mental health, we will consider the greater volume of research that has been published in China, alongside evidence from the UK.

What mental health difficulties have people experienced?

Research has shown that the mental health disorders experienced during the pandemic include increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This appears to be the case cross-culturally (Rajkumar, 2020; McAloney-Kocaman et al., 2020; Shevlin et al., 2020; Salehi et al., 2021). People commonly experienced difficulties including: impaired sleep, health anxiety (resulting in either repeatedly seeking medical consultations or avoiding health care even when genuinely ill), stress, social isolation, uncertainty, panic, paranoia, infection concerns, concerns about infecting others, concerns about job security, financial concerns, and concerns about the NHS’s ability to cope (Rajkumar, 2020; McAloney-Kocaman et al., 2020; Shevlin et al., 2020).

Who is most at risk?

Symptoms of mental health difficulties (i.e., anxiety, depression, and PTSD) were more likely for young people, parents/carers, and those with poor health or at high-risk from COVID-19 (Shevlin et al., 2020; McAloney-Kocaman et al., 2020). Low/lost income and pre-existing health conditions of other people also predicted anxiety and depression (Shevlin et al., 2020). Research from China also suggests that anxiety and depression were more likely in women, students, Chinese students studying oversees, those with COVID-19 symptoms, health care workers, people who are homeless, migrant workers, pregnant women, and elderly people (Rajkumar, 2020). 

Healthcare workers such as nurses are a high-risk group, with nurses in the UK showing increases in depression, anxiety, PTSD, and stress (Gilleen et al., 2021). This is to the point that severe levels of psychiatric symptoms are unfortunately common in this population post-COVID, with symptoms classified as high in over 33% of nurses for anxiety, 28% for depression, and 14% for PTSD, which is a marked increase from pre-COVID rates. Over 60% of healthcare workers reported having experienced a stressful or traumatic event during the pandemic. Those on the frontline, females, and those with previous mental health diagnoses were more likely to experience severe symptoms, with frontline workers likely to experience a greater worsening in their mental health (Gilleen et al., 2021). Younger and more inexperienced nurses have also been found to be more at risk at depression and anxiety as a result of COVID-19 (Roberts et al., 2021). Factors associated with severe mental health symptoms in this population include a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), preparation, training, or communication, and an increased workload (Gilleen et al., 2021). Similarly, lack of PPE, longer hours, risk of infection, loneliness, physical fatigue, and separation from families were factors associated with mental health difficulties for nurses in China (Rajkumar, 2020).

Another population of interest is those with prior mental health diagnoses in Scotland. A recent report found that the self-reported mental health of these individuals has been in decline during the pandemic. Moreover, they reported experiencing feeling like a burden to the NHS, disruptions and changes to their treatments, loss of face-to-face contact which could hinder their relationship with their therapist, an increase in loneliness and uncertainty or difficulties when reaching out for support (SAMH, 2021).

Below there is a short explainer video to introduce the impacts of Covid-19 on Mental health which will be explored further in the live panel discussion on the 12th of May. 


Gilleen, J., Santaolalla, A., Valdearenas, L., Salice, C., & Fusté, M. (2021). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of UK healthcare workers. BJPsych Open, 7(3).

McAloney-Kocaman, K., McPherson, K. E., Faeth, P., & Schroeter, B. (2020). Covid-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study Initial Results – Scotland.

Rajkumar, R. P. (2020). COVID-19 and mental health: A review of the existing literature. Asian journal of psychiatry, 52, 102066. DOI:

Roberts, N. J., McAloney-Kocaman, K., Lippiett, K., Ray, E., Welch, L., & Kelly, C. (2021). Levels of resilience, anxiety and depression in nurses working in respiratory clinical areas during the COVID pandemic. Respiratory medicine, 176, 106219. DOI:

Salehi, M., Amanat, M., Mohammadi, M., Salmanian, M., Rezaei, N., Saghazadeh, A., & Garakani, A. (2021). The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder related symptoms in Coronavirus outbreaks: a systematic-review and meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders.

Scottish Association for Mental Health (2021). Mental Health Care and Treatment During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Research Report. Retrieved from

Shevlin, M., McBride, O., Murphy, J., Miller, J. G., Hartman, T. K., Levita, L., ... & Bentall, R. P. (2020). Anxiety, depression, traumatic stress and COVID-19-related anxiety in the UK general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. BJPsych Open, 6(6).