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Queen’s survey reveals high rates of mental ill health in NI amidst current COVID-19 pandemic

The research survey from Queen’s University Belfast explored the psychological impact of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic on people in Northern Ireland.

The research survey from Queen’s University Belfast explored the psychological impact of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic on people in Northern Ireland 

The survey found that within 470 people, one third of people in Northern Ireland meet the criteria for anxiety (30 per cent) and depression (33 per cent), and one in five (20 per cent) meet the criteria for COVID-19 related PTSD due to the current pandemic.  

The study was led by Professor Chérie Armour and researchers from the Stress, Trauma And Research Conditions (STARC) research lab at Queen’s University. The research team conducted a month-long online research study to determine how many people were experiencing anxiety, depression and post-trauma symptoms and if particular groups were more at risk for mental ill health than others 

Talking about the study, Professor Chérie Armour said: “The rates of self-reported anxiety, depression and COVID-19 related symptoms during the first month of lockdown are quite striking within our Northern Ireland specific data. They are comparable yet slightly higher than the rates reported in UK studies; mostly collecting data from England. This is understandable since Northern Ireland has previously reported a 25 per cent higher prevalence of mental ill health compared to England and our results have shown those with pre-existing mental health conditions are most at risk”.   

The main aim was to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on mental health, as well as investigating attitudes and concerns about aspects related to the government and the health services ability to manage the situation.  

The team collected data from over 2,500 people across the UK of which 470 people were living in Northern Ireland. This is the largest data collection exercise on COVID-19 related mental health in Northern Ireland to date.  

The survey results revealed that the most at risk groups for mental ill health during the first month of lockdown included those with pre-existing mental health conditions, key workers, those who consume a high volume of COVID-19 related information via the media, younger people, and those who are highly concerned about infection 

The survey also asked about several COVID-19 related worries and attitudes.  

The additional key findings include:  

Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) stated that they were highly concerned about the ability of the health service to care for COVID-19 patients if the situation was to worsen Approximately half of respondents (49 per cent) said they were highly concerned about the Government’s ability to manage the situation.  One in two people (50 per cent) were highly concerned about the financial implications of the outbreak; particularly those who reported a self-perceived lower than average income. 

At the time of completing the survey, 68 per cent of respondents who were non-keyworkers were self-isolating. One in five (21 per cent) knew someone who had been diagnosed with the virus but in contrast, only two people reported having been diagnosed themselves.   

Professor Armour added: “Given the pressure on keyworkers during these uncertain times we expected to find that being a keyworker would increase the risk for mental health outcomes and the data supports this. Other groups such as younger people were also shown to be at risk. Government bodies, mental health support organisations and relevant decision-makers must be mindful of these at-risk and potentially hard to reach groups when managing the COVID-19 response. 

Based on the figures reported in this study related to mental ill health during lockdown and our understanding that many people may be experiencing psychological distress but not meet the criteria for mental ill health currently, funding should be provided for an uplift to the mental health workforce to support the potential influx of individuals needing mental health support”.