One in ten people had suicidal thoughts at the end of the first six weeks of the UK lockdown, research shows.
Academics at the University of Glasgow found that the pandemic and being locked up at home had a major impact on the mental health of people in the UK.
The researchers examined 3,000 adults and found that the number of people who had thoughts about ending their lives increased by two percentage points between March and May.
While it’s a small increase, it’s significant given the short time it has occurred, the researchers said.
Young people, women and people with a socially disadvantaged background were more likely to report deteriorated mental health during the lockdown.
One in seven (14 percent) young adults had suicidal thoughts in mid-May, up from about 12.5 percent, the study found.
Samaritans called the findings ‘grim’ saying that they ‘have no doubt that Covid-19 had an adverse effect on the mental health of the country’.
One in ten people had suicidal thoughts at the end of the first six weeks of the UK lockdown, research shows. Rates were even higher in people under the age of 30. While the two percentage point increase is a small increase, it is significant given the short time it took place, the researchers said.
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, was funded by mental health charities, the Samaritans, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and the Mindstep Foundation.
Three groups of participants between March and May were asked about pre-existing mental health problems, suicide attempts and self-harm, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, feelings of defeat, feelings of entrapment, mental well-being and loneliness.
ONE IN TEN AMBULANCE CALLS FOR MENTAL HEALTH IN LOCKDOWN
About one in 10 incidents attended by the London Ambulance Service (LAS) during the coronavirus pandemic involved mental health, figures show.
Of the total of 826,396 incidents attended between January and September, 81,644 (10%) had an element of mental health.
Mental health incidents have increased every month since March, when the Covid-19 lockdown measures were enacted.
In June, the highest percentage of attended calls was related to mental health, accounting for 12 percent of the total, or one in eight calls.
Last year, LAS employees and volunteers attended more than 105,000 incidents where patients had mental health problems – about nine percent of the total attendance.
The LAS ‘joint response car’ for mental health sends six teams of a registered nurse and paramedic to patients in a psychological crisis.
The extended pilot saw the number of unnecessary trips to emergency departments decrease by 80 percent in favor of more appropriate mental health care or referrals between January 19 and April 12.
LAS crews operating outside the scheme discharged 41 percent of patients on-site with care or a more appropriate referral, the LAS evaluation found.
GGZ nurses also work in LAS control rooms, providing advice on symptoms, and helping decide whether to send a GGZ car.
The rising number of mental health incidents is investigated in the BBC One documentary Ambulance, which airs Wednesday at 9pm.
In the episode, crews respond to a call about a suicidal patient pulled from the River Thames by a passerby and help calm a teenager who injured himself.
Keith, a paramedic, said, “Life can be difficult and overwhelming at times – that’s why it’s so important for people to reach out and talk to someone they trust.
“Sometimes one conversation is enough to give someone the help they need when they are struggling.”
On March 23, a nationwide lockdown was announced by the British government, instructing the public to stay at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Eight percent of the people in the first wave of the survey, between March 31 and April 9, reported suicidal thoughts.
This rose to 9.8 percent at the end of May after the lockdown started.
In young adults aged 19 to 29, this was 14 percent, against 12.5 percent.
The researchers said that while the increases are relatively small, they are significant because of the short time they have passed.
They said it is not possible to make direct comparisons with pre-Covid-19 rates.
But the mean rate of suicidal ideation among young adults is higher than the 11 percent that young adults have in childhood British study published two years ago.
Suicidal ideation across the sample is higher than reported elsewhere, with 2.8 percent reporting suicidal thoughts a national study of adults in 2009.
The research is considered one of the most detailed to date on mental health in the UK during the pandemic.
Professor Rory O’Connor, Chair of Health Psychology at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, who led the study, said: “ While public health measures, such as lockdown, were necessary to protect the general population, we know the effects of Covid-19 about the mental health and well-being of the population is likely to be profound and lengthy.
“The findings from our study, which highlight the increasing rate of suicidal ideation, especially among young adults, are worrying and show that we need to be vigilant about this risk group.”
Younger adults were more likely to report suicidal thoughts and more depressive symptoms than those aged 30-59 and over 60.
Those aged 30-59 years reported higher rates than those over the age of 60.
People with a lower socio-economic background were more likely to have suicidal thoughts than people from higher socio-economic groups.
And those with pre-existing mental illness were found to report more suicidal thoughts than those without.
More than one in four respondents, 26.1 percent, experienced at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms. It is not clear how much this has increased over the study period.
Despite the increase in suicidal thoughts and depression, other factors associated with the risk of suicide, such as symptoms of anxiety, decreased over the same period.
Participants have been followed up throughout the pandemic and further results will be published in the coming months.
Professor O’Connor said, “As we move through this pandemic, examining the mental health and wellness trajectory is critical to giving us a better understanding of the challenges people face in this difficult time.
“Having such analyzes and information will allow us to formulate targeted mental health measures and interventions for the most deprived as this pandemic continues, as well as prepare for the future.”
Dr. Liz Scowcroft, Samaritans Head of Research and Evaluation, said: “The findings of this study are stark and leave us in no doubt that Covid-19 has had an adverse effect on the mental health of the country.
However, it is important to remember that a rise in suicides is not inevitable. Suicide is preventable, and these results show that it is more important than ever that effective support is available to those who need it most.
“ As we continue to work our way through the pandemic, a priority for us is to reach out to those struggling to cope and encourage them to seek help before they reach crisis point. ”
For confidential support, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.