Married Britons report higher anxiety levels during lockdown

Married people and those in civil partnerships have reported the highest rise in anxiety levels during lockdown, according to a study by the Office of National Statistics.

Figures from the ONS, based on a survey of 6,430 adults in England, Scotland and Wales found that the percentage of people who are married or in a civil partnership who reported high levels of anxiety increased from 19% in 2019 to 39%. This compares with 36% of single people, up from 23%, and 32% of widowed individuals.

Prior to lockdown, the percentage reporting high levels of anxiety was lowest for those who were married or in a civil partnership (19%) compared with all other marital status groups (23%).

The study noted that married individuals were more likely to be balancing homeschooling alongside other commitments, with one in four people homeschooling during the pandemic, compared with approximately one in 10 who are single, separated or divorced.

It also noted that feeling lonely was the factor most strongly associated with reporting high anxiety – people who “often or always” felt lonely were almost five times more likely to report higher levels of anxiety than those who said they “never” felt lonely.

Those aged 75 and over were almost twice as likely as those aged 16 to 24to report high levels of anxiety during lockdown, reversing trends prior to lockdown.

In April the UK government set out these five tests it said had to be met before they would consider easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions:

  • The NHS has sufficient capacity to provide critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
  • A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from Coronavirus
  • Reliable data to show that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
  • Operational challenges including testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
  • Confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS

For people reporting high anxiety during the pandemic, more than one in five said that their work had been affected because they were finding working from home difficult.

“One particularly striking finding is that 39% of people who are married or in a civil partnership reported high levels of anxiety,” said Dawn Snape, the assistant director of sustainability and inequalities division, for the ONS. “It may in part be because of the challenges of homeschooling alongside work and other responsibilities.”

“Another marked change is in those aged 65 years or older. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic we consistently saw lower anxiety ratings in those aged 65 years and older, but now we are seeing the highest levels of anxiety amongst this group in lockdown”.

However, levels of anxiety among Britons appear to be reducing compared with the start of lockdown, figures show.

At the beginning of lockdown, there was a “marked” increase of anxiety, the ONS said. Between 20-30 March, almost half (49.6%) of people reported high anxiety. This reduced to 37% between 30 April and 10 May, but average anxiety scores are still higher compared with last year, and it has been estimated that 19 million adults in Britain are suffering high levels of anxiety.

A separate ONS study found that up to half of people who are shielding from Covid-19 in England have left their home against advice, while a third have seen their mental health worsen.

The figures, based on a survey of 4,149 people who are shielding, found that 49% have been out since shielding began, while 51% have stayed at home.

People who are shielding were initially told not to leave their home or garden, including for exercise, shopping or to go to work. On 1 June, the rules in England were relaxed to say people could leave their homes once a day for exercise.

The latest poll, covering 28 May to 3 June, found two-thirds (66%) had not stayed 2 metres away from those they live with despite being advised to do so, while 11% always kept their distance and 23% had done so sometimes.

Almost half (49%, an estimated 1.1 million people) said they had left the house since receiving advice to shield and 40% had left home at least once in the previous seven days.

The poll also found that while 61% of those shielding had experienced no difference in their mental health and wellbeing due to shielding, 35% said their mental health had got worse (29% slightly worse and 6% much worse). Women were also more likely than men to say their mental health had got worse over time.

The data also showed that about 627,000 of those shielding (28% of the total) had previously worked before being advised to shield.

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