Levels of wellbeing and psychological distress during COVID-19 pandemic are "substantially worse", costing the U.K. £2.25 billion per day

The difference between reported levels of wellbeing in April 2020 compared to April 2019 is enormous.
- Professor Paul Dolan
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COVID-19 London

Research into the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of people in the U.K. found “substantially worse” levels of wellbeing and psychological distress across the U.K. in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a new report from Jacobs’ subsidiary Simetrica-Jacobs and LSE.

Levels of all measures of wellbeing are at the lowest in the U.K. since records began in 2011 and many parts of the population are over the threshold for psychiatric morbidity. The costs of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures on mental health and wellbeing were calculated to have an indicative monetary value to the U.K. of £2.25 billion per day, equivalent to £43 per adult each day. This is the net cost as both the positive and negative effects of COVID-19 and social distancing were included in the analysis.

As governments look to future planning and policy appraisal, this type of country-wide analysis on the mental health and wellbeing impacts of COVID-19 offers a social value perspective which has seen limited research to date.

In the U.K. report, the authors estimate that about two-thirds of the wellbeing cost comes from the impact of social distancing alone.

The results of the report were drawn from a survey on wellbeing carried out by a representative sample of U.K. residents between April 9-19, 2020. The survey found substantially worse levels of wellbeing and psychological distress amongst the U.K. population, a pattern consistent across all regions and groups in the U.K.; men and women, age groups and ethnicities.

The survey also found that during COVID-19 measures, decreases in wellbeing and levels of psychological distress were particularly high for women and ethnic minority groups, with key workers reporting higher levels of anxiety and psychological distress. The decline in wellbeing experienced by individuals was around twice the amount of the impact of becoming unemployed in normal times.

The authors caution that this value only includes the impacts on individuals’ wellbeing and does not include business impacts, impacts on children, government and healthcare expenditure and mortality due to COVID-19, and warn the full cost to society will be higher.

Professor Paul Dolan, Head of Department and Professor of Behavioural Science in Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE, said: “The difference between reported levels of wellbeing in April 2020 compared to April 2019 is enormous, however, not surprising given the huge toll that COVID-19 and the policy responses are taking on us. We calculate that the social distancing measures make up about two-thirds of the wellbeing impact and this highlights the importance of government policies to address the mental health needs of those whose lives are being most adversely affected by the current measures.”

“Jacobs’ global practice in social value and wellbeing analysis is helping clients improve the way social and wellbeing impacts are measured and incorporated into decision making. The COVID-19 global health pandemic is having a major impact on our lives, yet little is known about the effects of policy responses around the world on people’s wellbeing,” said Jacobs President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Pragada. “As this new report shows, this type of analysis helps inform governments and stakeholders as they develop policy responses and solutions to improve wellbeing and quality of life as we move forward.”

“The anecdotal evidence and news stories clearly show the impact that COVID-19 and social distancing are having on people’s lives,” commented Simetrica-Jacobs Director Dr. Daniel Fujiwara. “The fact that there are significant reductions in a wide range of wellbeing and mental health measures, that the costs of social distancing are large and, that women and ethnic minority groups seem to be disproportionately affected should provide useful insight for policy.”

Behind the article

Download the full report: The Wellbeing Costs of COVID-19 in the U.K., written by Dr. Daniel Fujiwara, Simetrica-Jacobs and LSE; Professor Paul Dolan, LSE; Dr. Ricky Lawton; Dr. Fatemeh Behzadnejad; Augustin Lagarde; Cem Maxwell; and Sebastien Peytrignet (all Simetrica-Jacobs).