Date Published: 23 March 2020

Psychologists are researching the mental health and social impact of COVID-19

Psychologists at several UK universities1 have begun a joint study of the mental health and social impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic, including the UK government's response to coronavirus, to discover its effects on the mental health and behaviour of UK residents.

The team of scientists, led by Professor Richard Bentall of Sheffield University (Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England), are surveying 2,000 people in the UK now, and again in a month's time. They hope the responses gathered will contribute to improved management of any future public health crises.

The study is designed to measure the impact of this situation on people's mental health, attitudes towards others and political views, and to understand how these develop as the situation changes over time, including how any such changes relate to changes in health-related behaviour. The researchers are also interested in how these impacts are related to exposure to infected people and beliefs about the virus and the epidemic. They will consider how these impacts might be explained by psychological factors which might result in some people coping better than others during this type of situation.

The representative group of UK residents will be asked about COVID-19 health related behaviours such as social distancing, use of masks and handwashing to measure the extent to which people are following the advice given.

According to material issued by Sheffield University1 there has been very little research on the psychological impacts of viral epidemics. The limited data that is available suggests that such epidemics may have severe social and psychological effects, and that quarantining people might affect their mental health. There are indications that how people react to an epidemic can affect the progression of the epidemic.

Dr Jilly Gibson-Miller, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Sheffield, said:

" This is one of the first studies of the 'psychology of epidemics' during perhaps one of the biggest existential threats the world has faced this century.
_ Our survey will allow us to begin to understand, in great depth, the psychological impact of this epidemic on our citizens and how this changes as the epidemic unfolds.
_ We know what an important role human behaviour plays in the spread of an epidemic. As a Health Psychologist, I'm particularly interested in the extent to which people are carrying out protective behaviours, such as hand-washing and social distancing, and whether they feel they have sufficient motivation, opportunity and capability to do so
."

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