Are sociodemographic, psychosocial, and health-related factors associated with risk of poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK?
This cohort study using data from a large panel study including 51 417 adults found that the risks of moderate and severe depressive symptom trajectories were significantly higher among people experiencing abuse or low social support, individuals with low socioeconomic position, and those with preexisting mental and physical health conditions.
These findings suggest that mental health and socioeconomic interventions in the current or future pandemics should be targeted toward people with these risk factors.
An immediate research priority is to investigate and monitor the psychological well-being among high-risk groups during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
To examine levels of severity of depressive symptoms over time among individuals with high risk in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This cohort study is part of an ongoing large panel study of adults aged 18 years and older residing in the UK, the COVID-19 Social Study, established on March 21, 2020. Data analysis was conducted in May 2020.
Sociodemographic risk factors included belonging to the Black, Asian, and minority racial/ethnic communities, low socioeconomic position (SEP), and essential worker roles (eg, workers in health and social care, education, childcare, or key public services). Health-related and psychosocial risk factors included preexisting physical and mental health conditions, experience of psychological or physical abuse, and low social support.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Depressive symptoms were measured on 7 occasions from March 21 to April 2, 2020, using the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Group-based depressive symptom trajectories were derived using latent growth mixture modeling.
The analytical sample comprised 51 417 adults aged 18 years and older (mean [SD] age, 48.8 [16.8] years; 26 276 [51.1%] women; 6145 members [12.0%] of Black, Asian, and minority racial/ethnic communities). Among these, 17 143 participants (33.3%) were in the lowest SEP quartile, and 11 342 participants (22.1%) were classified as essential workers. Three levels of severity of depressive symptoms were identified: low (30 850 participants [60.0%]), moderate (14 911 participants [29.0%]), and severe (5656 participants [11.0%]). After adjusting for covariates, experiences of physical or psychological abuse (odds ratio [OR], 13.16; 95% CI, 12.95-13.37; P < .001), preexisting mental health conditions (OR, 12.99; 95% CI, 12.87-13.11; P < .001), preexisting physical health conditions (OR, 3.41; 95% CI, 3.29-3.54; P < .001), low social support (OR, 12.72; 95% CI, 12.57-12.86; P < .001), and low SEP (OR, 5.22; 95% CI, 5.08-5.36; P < .001) were significantly associated with severe depressive symptoms. No significant association was found for race/ethnicity (OR, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.85-1.28; P = .56). Participants with essential worker roles were less likely to experience severe depressive symptoms (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.53-0.80; P < .001). Similar patterns of associations were found for the group of participants with moderate depressive symptoms (abuse: OR, 5.34; 95% CI, 5.15-5.54; P < .001; mental health condition: OR, 4.24; 95% CI, 4.24-4.24; P < .001; physical health condition: OR, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.80-1.98; P < .001; low social support: OR, 4.71; 95% CI, 4.60-4.82; P < .001; low SEP: OR, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.87-2.08; P < .001).
Conclusions and Relevance
In this cohort study of UK adults participating in the COVID-19 Social Study, people with psychosocial and health-related risk factors, as well as those with low SEP, were at the most risk of experiencing moderate or severe depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.