'Covid Conversations': experiences of the pandemic in Scotland

This report presents findings from qualitative research carried out between December 2020 and February 2021. These were referred to as ‘Covid Conversations’ as they gave people an opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic and the public health measures that have been in place.

1. Health and wellbeing: experiences of mental health and accessing support services

Keeping it together

"Keep it together" was seen by participants as an achievement in staying safe and looking after their families. One participant described staying at home as something they are doing well. They felt that the lockdown restrictions gave them the reason and excuse to stay at home.

"I wouldn't say I'm enjoying it but have kind of got used to it…I feel comfortable, I'm really enjoying my house and being here and relationships with the kids, the family bonding. We're spending so much more time together, learning from each other and support."

Others mentioned that exercise, volunteering and connecting more with nature as things they were managing well. One participant described the benefits of meditation and how they had been teaching other families different practices during lockdown.

"It can't be underestimated the manic pressure around home-schooling for parents…They were really listening to me and then taking [meditation] to the kids, and it seemed to help a lot in just calming the family as a whole."

Mental health

Mental health was as a major concern for many participants. Anxiety about the pandemic, cramped living conditions, the length of the lockdown and the lack of face-to-face interaction were discussed as a negative impact on mental health.

"I'm very extraverted person so I like going to friends and seeing people and all of a sudden you go to being stuck in the house. Ok you have Zoom but it's not the same. It's making my anxiety that bad that can't deal with it. It's not younger people- it can affect people of all ages."

"There is a lot of fear anxiety about this disease and about the lockdown."

The mental health of friends and family was a particular worry. Participants shared that they knew of family or friends who had either tried to, or been successful at taking their own life. One participant described how they were concerned about a friend who lives more than five miles from her house, which meant they were unable visit her within the guidelines.

"Her mental health is going to bits as her support network has collapsed."

The mental health of young people stood out. One participant commented about their worries about impact on young people's mental health, specifically that only those who can afford to get online will be able to access mental health support. Participants commented that online support was not always suitable for children.

Support services

There were also concerns about closed or reduced mental health support services due to Coronavirus.

"Everything is shut down and we're expected to just deal with it. We're promised the world and then just left to it on our own."

"I'm petrified but my support worker has been furloughed so I can't speak to them."

Some participants expected an increase in demand for mental health services down the line, and the importance of prioritising wellbeing and mental health.

"We're talking a lot of about mental health, are we investing in them?"

"If [people] survive this, they will be unable to rebuild their lives - I'm not talking livelihoods, I'm talking wellbeing."

Current challenges accessing medical appointments were also raised. One participant said that their medical appointments had not been cancelled at all and they were happy about this. However, another was worried that cancelled health appointments was leading to a deterioration of their health condition. Participants highlighted reasons for avoiding appointments which they thought might outlast the pandemic.

"They're telling you on the television don't be afraid to call. But I think people are afraid to call because they're scared of wasting time, and also when you do call, it's not face to face, and they're telling you to do this/that…I think a lot of people have got used to not going out and for some of them, that might become a way of life."

Reflections from participants

Whilst there is a natural and entirely appropriate emphasis on the importance of addressing the widening educational attainment gap which has deepened during the pandemic, participants were also at pains to emphasise the importance of socialisation for young people, many of whom had 'forgotten how to socialise' over the last year. This should mean an emphasis on out of school activities and community-based youth work as well as more formal learning.

Whilst welcoming an emphasis on the need for additional mental health services for young people across Scotland, and the need to ensure that all young people are able to access the labour market effectively, participants recognised that for those households struggling against poverty, the barriers are more acute. Policies and programmes which are not deliberately focused on supporting the most vulnerable are like to widen rather than reduce inequalities.


Email: covid-19.behaviours@gov.scot

Back to top