Tracking the mental health and wellbeing of the Scottish population during the COVID-19 pandemic is important to understand the wider implications of the pandemic and lockdown, beyond those who have been directly impacted by the virus. This report outlines the findings from Wave 4 of the Scottish COVID-19 Tracker Study (4th February to 9th March 2021), which is the fourth of five waves in a longitudinal study spanning one year. The aim of this wave of the study is to better understand the mental health and wellbeing of the Scottish population during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically during a UK-wide lockdown.
Consistent with the cross-sectional findings from the three previous waves, the Wave 4 findings suggest there are particular groups within society that may be at elevated risk for more negative mental health and wellbeing outcomes such as depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, suicidal thoughts, and mental wellbeing. The highest rates of negative mental health outcomes in Wave 4 were reported among:
- young adults
- respondents with a pre-existing mental health condition
- respondents with a pre-existing physical health condition
- respondents from the lower SEG.
As data collection for Wave 1 began in May 2020, after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had already been put into place, this report is unable to identify how mental health and wellbeing has changed from before the pandemic. However, comparison between the Wave 1, Wave 2, Wave 3, and Wave 4 longitudinal data suggests an overall increase in mental ill-health during this time, although some findings were more mixed.
Specifically, rates of depressive symptoms increased from Wave 3 to Wave 4, and at Wave 4 depressive symptoms were the highest reported across the previous waves. Of further concern was the increase in suicidal thoughts from Wave 3 to Wave 4, which is consistent with a recent review suggesting there has been an increase in rates of suicidal thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to pre-pandemic rates globally (Dubé et al., 2021), although this is yet to be evidenced in suicide rates (Pirkis et al., 2021). Additionally, levels of loneliness and defeat increased from Wave 3 to Wave 4 and levels of life satisfaction decreased between these waves. In contrast, average levels of mental wellbeing increased from Wave 3 to Wave 4, and was higher than at all previous waves.
Overall, evidence from Wave 4 suggests there have been mixed findings relating to the mental health and wellbeing of respondents in the Scottish COVID-19 Tracker Study. It is important to note that mental health scales overlap in terms of the outcomes being measured while also indicating different findings. The overall pattern of findings is mixed; there is some indication that mental health has deteriorated on several markers from Wave 1, Wave 2, and Wave 3 to Wave 4, specifically depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, yet on other markers, such as mental wellbeing, there has been an improvement. As Wave 4 coincided with a UK-wide lockdown, including restrictions on many freedoms, this implies that lockdown restrictions may have impacted upon people's mental health, although that impact may not be consistent depending upon the mental health measure used. This effect will be monitored closely in the final wave of the SCOVID study (ran between 1 June 2021 and 9 July 2021), which coincided with the easing of restrictions.