Emotional and mental health impacts of Covid and the pandemic

In this section, we discuss the ways that people we spoke to felt the pandemic had affected their mental health and wellbeing. Most people said that the pandemic significantly impacted their mental health, though some also reflected on positive experiences during the pandemic. This page discusses:

  • New worries, anxiety and depression
  • Worrying about children and older relatives
  • Losing loved ones
  • Being isolated, alone and without social interaction
  • Managing anxieties
  • Bringing family together
  • Messages for others with pandemic anxieties

New worries, anxiety, and depression

Most people we spoke to felt their mental and emotional wellbeing got worse during the pandemic. Sunita felt that Covid made her feel ‘more anxious and fearful.’ Mr Ehsaan said that he was “too scared to even touch a door handle,” and Irene said that she was “scared out of her skin.” Dawn, a teacher, was anxious about catching Covid because “working in that environment, feel like you are surrounded because you’re in such close contact all the time that you always think you’ve got Covid.” Some people were diagnosed with anxiety and depression, including Beth. She said that even as restrictions eased, she still had anxiety about catching Covid.

Beth describes being diagnosed with depression during the pandemic.

Stories of people dying were particularly impactful. Rabbi Wollenberg spoke about how he became aware of his own mortality.

The news increased these anxieties for many people, including Emdad, Doreen and Matt. Emdad remembered “frightening news that twenty thousand people affected… we try to like get out from the shock.” People we spoke to were worried that their loved ones could become a part of these statistics.

Paul Z says that seeing the news of people dying caused a lot of worry.

Worrying about children and older relatives

Many people we spoke to said they were not worried about themselves, but about their family members. Parents felt that their children were lonely because they were not spending time with their school friends during periods of school closure. Others were worried that their children were falling behind in their schooling. This was particularly evident among parents who had children taking GCSE’s and A-Levels.

Milembe felt that her children were getting behind with their schooling.

Some people were worried about older relatives and were aware of their risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid. This worry was escalated by the fact that they could not see these relatives.

Iqra was concerned that her mother could catch Covid from the supermarket.

Losing loved ones

Some people we spoke to lost loved ones unexpectedly to Covid. Jessica, a respiratory doctor, spoke about how it was “punishing” to tell people that their loved one had died due to Covid. Robert, explained that “we had a lot of patients that died from Covid as well and that was very sad, sad moments because these were people that we knew and worked with for years.”

Experiences of death and dying were different because most people were unable to be around their loved ones as they died. People had spread the word about relatives dying via text of phone, rather than face-to-face. People did not have access to their usual support networks like their extended family and friends. Funeral arrangements were particularly difficult because of the limitations on the number of people who could attend. Gulsoom speaks about how difficult it was for her when her father died from Covid.

Gulsoom said she felt alone after her father died from Covid.

Aytana found it sad when she couldn’t pay her respects at a neighbour’s funeral.

Being isolated, alone, and without social interaction

People we spoke to had particularly difficult experiences during periods of lockdown where social interaction was severely limited. Some people we spoke to felt sad about the withdrawal of physical contact. As Sunita explained, “you just want to be able to hug a person.” People generally missed their pre-pandemic life of being able to exercise, see friends and family and go to social events. In the following clip, Doreen describes how she felt trapped indoors during the pandemic.

Doreen says that she felt trapped and wanted to return to her pre-pandemic life.

For people with family in other countries, not being able to travel for holiday or to visit family was upsetting. Mudasar wished he could visit his family in Pakistan and Emdad found not being able to see his family in Bangladesh difficult. Sarita explains her sadness when she could not visit her family in India.

Some people also spoke about missing interacting with people in their faith networks. However, for some people online faith activities helped manage this anxiety.

Managing anxieties

People mentioned several ways in which they managed their feelings of distress and tried to improve their mental health during the pandemic. This included:

  • Focusing on what could be controlled
  • Distraction and joy
  • Imagining new possibilities
  • Increasing exercise
  • Helping others
  • Connecting with faith

Emdad distracted himself from his anxieties by watching movies instead of the news.

Even though she couldn’t go to the gym, Irene found that walking after work helped and was pleased when the gyms reopened. Mr. Eshaan also felt that keeping active was important to ‘break the cycle’ of anxiety. Some people felt that they could manage their anxieties by helping neighbours and family members with grocery shopping or just being around to listen to their concerns.

Dawn found that helping others made her feel better.

Faith was important to lots of people we spoke to. Tony, a Christian, trusted that God “won’t give you more than you can bear.” Razia, a Muslim, found prayer and meditation helpful. Similarly, Iqra found that prayer helped her shut out the outside world.

Iqra described how praying gave her peace.

Tun’s faith helped him to recover a positive outlook on life.

Bringing family together

The pandemic was a very difficult time for all the people we spoke to. However, some people did report some things that were positive for their mental health. This included spending more time with household members. For example, Aytana said that she was grateful to be at home, taking care of her parents. Kashif said that the good thing about the pandemic was that he had more time to spend with his children. Sarita said that she had fun going for walks and sitting in her garden with her family. Susanne said that her family made new traditions during the pandemic including ‘international food day’ once per week.

Susanne says that her family started new traditions during the pandemic including international food day.

Messages for others with pandemic anxieties

The people we spoke to shared messages for others with pandemic related anxieties. Beth said “don’t face it alone. There are people out there that can help… There’s counsellors and the GPs can really help you.” Ahmed encouraged people to keep in touch with their support networks via text, phone, and online meeting platforms. As he puts it, “anything to keep yourself in a good frame of mind, because I do think that you start to recover a lot better when you’re thinking a lot more positively.”