Mental health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic: a latent class trajectory analysis using longitudinal UK data

Lancet Psychiatry. 2021 Jul;8(7):610-619. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(21)00151-6. Epub 2021 May 6.


Background: The mental health of the UK population declined at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Convenience sample surveys indicate that recovery began soon after. Using a probability sample, we tracked mental health during the pandemic to characterise mental health trajectories and identify predictors of deterioration.

Methods: This study was a secondary analysis of five waves of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (a large, national, probability-based survey that has been collecting data continuously since January, 2009) from late April to early October, 2020 and pre-pandemic data taken from 2018-19. Mental health was assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). We used latent class mixed models to identify discrete mental health trajectories and fixed-effects regression to identify predictors of change in mental health.

Findings: Mental health was assessed in 19 763 adults (≥16 years; 11 477 [58·1%] women and 8287 [41·9%] men; 3453 [17·5%] participants from minority ethnic groups). Mean population mental health deteriorated with the onset of the pandemic and did not begin improving until July, 2020. Latent class analysis identified five distinct mental health trajectories up to October 2020. Most individuals in the population had either consistently good (7437 [39·3%] participants) or consistently very good (7623 [37·5%] participants) mental health across the first 6 months of the pandemic. A recovering group (1727 [12·0%] participants) showed worsened mental health during the initial shock of the pandemic and then returned to around pre-pandemic levels of mental health by October, 2020. The two remaining groups were characterised by poor mental health throughout the observation period; for one group, (523 [4·1%] participants) there was an initial worsening in mental health that was sustained with highly elevated scores. The other group (1011 [7·0%] participants) had little initial acute deterioration in their mental health, but reported a steady and sustained decline in mental health over time. These last two groups were more likely to have pre-existing mental or physical ill-health, to live in deprived neighbourhoods, and be of Asian, Black or mixed ethnicity. Infection with SARS-CoV-2, local lockdown, and financial difficulties all predicted a subsequent deterioration in mental health.

Interpretation: Between April and October 2020, the mental health of most UK adults remained resilient or returned to pre-pandemic levels. Around one in nine individuals had deteriorating or consistently poor mental health. People living in areas affected by lockdown, struggling financially, with pre-existing conditions, or infection with SARS-CoV-2 might benefit most from early intervention.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult