Coronavirus (COVID-19): Mental Health Research Advisory Group minutes - September 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 7 September 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Professor Andrew Gumley (Chair), University of Glasgow 
  • Lee Knifton (LK), Mental Health Foundation 
  • Alix Rosenberg (AR), Scottish Government     
  • Anne Armstrong (AA), Scottish Government  
  • Dr Alistair Cook (AC), Scottish Government 
  • Dr Daniel Kopasker, University of Aberdeen
  • Emma Hogg (EH), Public Health Scotland 
  • Gordon Johnston, VoX
  • Jessica Galway (minute), Scottish Government 
  • Lilian Kennedy (LK), Scottish Government 
  • Lucy Mulvagh (LM), Health and Social Care Alliance 
  • Neil Quinn (NQ), University of Strathclyde 
  • Professor Matthias Schwannauer (MS), University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Rory O’Connor (RO), NSPLG Academic Reference Group 
  • Professor Steve Platt (SP), NSPLG Academic Reference Group
  • Sarah Martin (SM), Scottish Government   


  • Alan McNair, Scottish Government
  • Karen Martin, Carers Trust 
  • Stephen McLeod (SMc), Scottish Government  

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions 

The Chair welcomed Dr Alistair Cook who has taken up the role of Principal Medical Officer.  

Minute from July meeting

Minutes from the July meeting were agreed for publication.

Scottish COVID-19 (SCOVID) Mental Health Tracker Study, Wave 1 findings

RO and LK presented an update on the Wave 1 findings of the Scottish COVID-19 Wellbeing Tracker Study to the group:  

  • these findings are based on questionnaire data collected between 28th May and 21st June 2020 (a period which coincided with the Phase 1 easing of lockdown measures in Scotland) and draws on a nationally representative sample of 2514 adults 
  • the SCOVID study is part of is part of a UK-wide study (‘Tracking the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and wellbeing (COVID-MH) study’) which started on 31st March 2020 just after lockdown measures were imposed
  • wave 1 of the Tracker Study shows that 35.7% of the sample reported high levels of psychological distress and a possible psychiatric disorder (based on responses to the GHQ-12: General Health Questionnaire). Just over a quarter of the sample (25.3%) reported levels of depressive symptoms indicating a possible need for treatment, and nearly a fifth (19.1%) reported anxiety symptoms of a similar level. Furthermore, 10.2% of respondents reported suicidal thoughts within the week prior to the Wave 1 survey, with 3.6% thinking about suicide more than half of the days during that week. Although there is no directly comparable pre-COVID-19 data available, the findings indicate that participants are reporting higher rates of psychological distress than might have been expected in non-COVID-19 pandemic circumstances
  • the study also shows certain population groups are reporting higher levels of mental health issues and financial concerns. These groups include young adults (18-29 years), women, individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions, and individuals in the lower socio-economic group. Respondents who identified as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) also frequently reported worse mental health indicators, however it must be noted that the sample size for respondents who identified as BAME is quite small, and therefore, the findings should be treated with caution

The Chair thanked RO and LK for their update on the Wave 1 findings and welcomed questions and comments from members. 

AC asked if there is a reliable comparator for levels of suicidal thoughts indicated in the paper. RO noted that there isn’t a direct comparator for these figures but that tracking this throughout the future waves of the study would be very important to understand the impact of the pandemic on levels of suicidal ideation. 

LM asked if the study is also tracking whether participants have a disability and if they are accessing social care packages or services? RO noted that there is no direct question on disability within the questionnaires but that it does ask participants if they have any physical or mental health conditions. The study doesn’t ask directly about access to social care services. 

LM also asked if the study data is able to demonstrate intersectional impacts, particularly around differences between men and women’s’ experiences. RO noted that sample sizes makes intersectionality analysis difficult but noted that there is other ongoing survey work which is being funded by the CSO which may provide further info on this.  

MS asked if the sub group within the sample with pre-existing mental health were self-declaring or this was a sampling design. RO noted that participants self-declared pre-existing mental health conditions.  

GJ reflected that the findings around economic factors were interesting and noted that these impacts are likely to become more apparent as the economic consequences of the pandemic are felt. 

DK highlighted that the groups that this study shows have poorer mental health outcomes are similar to those groups who have been most likely to be furloughed employees according to the House of Commons report (young people, ethnic minorities). DK also noted that if the furloughed group transition into unemployment these effects are likely to be magnified. 

SP noted that it would be useful to understand if there are changes in the employment position of women in the future waves of the study. SP noted that this would help us to understand if, and to what extent women are being forced out of the labour market as a result of the economic impacts and the additional impacts this may have on mental health. RO noted that this could be picked up during next wave.  

The Chair asked for reflections on what policy implications this group should be thinking about in light of the findings. 

RO noted that following the mental health impacts on the four groups that are showing poorer mental health outcomes will be important. RO also noted that monitoring the suicidal ideation statistics will be important to understand if this is increasing over future waves.  

DK noted that the Understanding Society study includes data on GHQ12 and offered to send this over to help form a pre-COVID-19 baseline. 


  • LK/ RO to share publication of Wave 1 findings when available 

Lived experience panel update 

LM and LK presented an update and proposal paper on the lived experience panel. 

The Chair thanked LM, LK, GJ and KM for their paper and input and welcomed discussion and questions from members. 

LM and LK noted that further work would be needed to develop a terms of reference to set out the role of the panel and its membership. 

AC noted that the panel could benefit policy development across the Mental Health Directorate and could have a broader application beyond the MHRAG.  

The Chair noted that this is a timeous paper and noted that there is something more fundamental about the proposal in asking how do we reach out to groups and communities with lived experience to incorporate their views in making sense of evidence. 

RO noted that there is an existing lived experience panel for the NSPLG and asked how this panel will interact with it. 

LK noted that had been considered in developing the proposal. LK explained that a broader based panel would be more effective in securing wider citizen engagement.  

GJ noted that the proposal didn’t want to form a traditional 8 person panel but wanted to use more innovative ways of bringing in a wide range of people in a way that suits them. For specific topics the panel could draw in additional people for those. 

NQ asked how the panel would feed into the MHRAG, for example would it be representative from panel who attends meeting? 

The Chair thanked members for their input and noted that the next step would be to develop the proposal further in conjunction with Mental Health Directorate. 

Research updates

SP noted that work to collate real time information on representing academic advisory group involved in collate information in real time on suicide and self-harm for NSPLG. 

AR noted that there is no summary update briefings for this meeting as PHE is doing similar work through tracking reports and emerging research and are now going to start publishing those. The August report will be available in next couple of weeks. AR also noted that PHS is taking forward a thematic look at research on mental health impacts on women and girls. 

MS highlighted the ongoing work with Citizen Science which considered the impact of COVID-19 on communities and agreed to circulate on MHRAG Teams space.

NQ noted that he is involved in new research on mental health disparities, which will be ready towards end of October. NQ agreed to bring those findings to the group at this stage. 

LK noted that the MHF is involved in a longitudinal study on student mental health which is being overseen by the College Principals’ Group. 

AOB and close 

The Chair thanked members for their contribution. 

The next meeting will be held on 28th October.

Back to top