2020 Research by Academy of Medical Sciences and MQ.pdf
Two surveys were carried out in the UK to help inform the framing of priorities for mental health research in
relation to the COVID-19 pandemic (see the main paper Panel 1 Methodology and Introduction). One was
a survey by the research charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health and one by Ipsos MORI. The MQ survey
achieved a remarkable response rate and the analyses of both surveys were completed in a very short time
frame. The MQ survey is a valuable snapshot even though it could not be completely representative of all
people living with mental illness (for example 80% of participants were female and very few people were aged
under 18). The Ipsos MORI survey had the benefit of a more representative sample of the general population
It is not surprising that many of the concerns reported in both surveys are related to anxiety, and that anxiety
is being experienced as generalised by some and by others associated with issues such as work, money,
getting food, fear of the virus, and keeping in touch. It is notable that many stakeholders in the survey had
fears about becoming mentally unwell and worries about being able to access mental health services during
the pandemic. Such fears underline the importance of rapidly refining and developing effective ways both to
provide access and to communicate with and support people experiencing mental illness and distress.
Likewise, it is not surprising that isolation features highly in both sets of responses, nor that social
communication is seen as important in supporting good mental health. It does however highlight the
vulnerability of those who have little contact with family or friends, and of those in abusive relationships.
Surveys like this give a way of assessing which issues are having the greatest effect on mental health
and the vulnerabilities of particular groups over time. One could predict that issues like bereavement and
financial worries may become more common, and that continued isolation, particularly for those with
inadequate or insecure accommodation, will exert a greater effect on mental health, but only monitoring
can measure the extent and the nature of developing problems.
The surveys also show the wide range of strategies people are currently utilising to manage isolation. Maintaining
interest and motivation can be a problem if you are depressed or anxious, or if you are struggling financially,
and people will have to manage many challenges as the crisis progresses. Participants did not list more negative
support strategies such as the use of alcohol, smoking, substance abuse and gambling, but some people will find
themselves using these and it is important to carry out effective and respectful ways of monitoring this.
The digital age, for all its problems, has bestowed a real gift: social media, the internet, video and phone
meetings mean that social communication and research can continue in a way that would have been
impossible even twenty years ago. At this time, it is essential to continue to listen and work with people with
lived, and living, experience (Lived Experience Practitioners) both within and outside the research community.
Continual effort is also needed to ensure inclusion of people from ethnic minority communities, from
marginalised groups, and to find people with relevant experience for each task.
These are difficult times and we have to maintain high ethical standards in research to protect people from
suffering undue mental distress due to participation in survey research, especially during a time of increased
vulnerability and impeded access to support. It was good that the MQ survey questions ended with a focus on
strategies people were employing to maintain their mental health rather than ending with a focus on mental
distress, financial or other practical problems. Including links to activities or websites might be another way
of supporting participants. Co-planning and design with individuals or groups could enable problems to be
flagged and addressed and for useful strategies to be identified early on.
We are all in this together and working together with people with lived experience is essential if research
is going to build a knowledge base that will help those living with mental health challenges now, and those
experiencing the fallout of this crisis over the coming months and years.