More than 70,000 adults were questioned regarding their mental health, wellbeing and social experiences during the various novel coronavirus-related lockdowns and the process of British exit from the EU, over the last 46 weeks, for the UK COVID-19 Social Study. People participating in the study were asked what it was that was causing them either minor stress or major stress in the week prior.
Younger adults are more concerned about Brexit than COVID-19
The study, which is the largest of its kind, determined that 42 per cent of people aged 18 - 29 are more concerned with Brexit and its consequences rather than catching COVID-19 (32 per cent), compared to participants aged 60 and over who had higher levels of stress associated with either catching COVID-19 or falling seriously ill from the disease.
However, when taken as a whole, a greater percentage of the adult population worry about falling seriously ill from the novel coronavirus (38 per cent) compared to Brexit and its consequences (30 per cent). The UK has seen a higher rate of COVID-related deaths during the "second wave", in part, it is believed, due to the impact of the colder months.
The figures differed among socio-economic backgrounds, with higher income earners more concerned about Brexit than their lower income cohorts, the latter of whom, conversely, were more concerned about catching and falling seriously ill from the disease.
“It is not surprising that younger people are most worried about the impact of Brexit. A greater proportion of younger people voted to Remain than to Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the ongoing news about the ramifications of leaving the EU for jobs, finances and businesses is likely to have a greater impact on younger people", said Dr Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the report.
Dr Fancourt also noted that there's also a, "perception among younger people that they are at lower risk from Covid-19 and that even if they do catch the disease, they are unlikely to become seriously ill".
Loneliness levels at all time high since first lockdown
"Happiness levels are at an all-time low during the pandemic in the UK, life satisfaction is at its lowest since the spring of 2020, and depression and anxiety levels have generally been worsening since the summer", the report concludes, noting that matters have worsened since the third lockdown was announced.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety are most pronounced among young adults, women, people living with children, members of ethnic minority backgrounds, those with long-term health conditions and households with lower incomes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, loneliness levels, "are the highest they have been since the first lockdown and have been increasing since the introduction of the latest lockdown", the report says, noting the greatest increase has been among people from ethnic minority backgrounds, those living alone and those with mental health conditions.
Confidence in central government has increased somewhat over the past few weeks, across Britain's three countries, though it remains lowest in England.
24 per cent of respondents say that their lives are "completely different" from usual, reflecting a 6 per cent increase from 2020. Young adults reported "the greatest difference in their lives", since COVID-19 emerged, compared to other age groups. With the percentage of 18 - 29 year-olds saying their lives were "completely different" increasing to 31 per cent, an 8 point jump from 2020.
The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, as well as the Wellcome Trust and UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental body of the British government.
"More needs to be done to provide young people with adequate support, including access to mental health services, and the skills they need to re-enter the job market", Cheryl Lloyd of the Nuffield Foundation said. Lloyd explained that this is particularly the case because, “young people are some of the most likely to be furloughed or to stop working during the pandemic".