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England saw a significant increase in severe psychological distress among adults over the past 3 years, highlighting the urgent need to address the growing mental health crisis and allocate sufficient resources to mental health services.
Findings from a research survey revealed a concerning rise in severe psychological distress among adults. Over the past 3 years, individuals in England have faced numerous challenges, including a pandemic, cost-of-living issues, and healthcare crises.1
This trend was mimicked globally since the pandemic. In April 2020, the NYC Well crisis counseling and support line encountered an approximate 50% increase in inbound calls.2
To better understand the trends in psychological distress during this period and examine potential influencing factors, a monthly cross-sectional survey was conducted among adults in England from April 2020 - December 2022 by a team of investigators led by Sarah Jackson, PhD, MSc, Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London.1
The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of adults aged 18 years and older. The survey collected data from 51,861 participants, with a weighted mean age of 48.6 years. The sample included 26,609 women, representing 51.3% of the respondents.
The prevalence of distress evaluated in the research used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale and the analysis revealed that while the overall proportion of respondents reporting any distress remained relatively stable from April (34.5%) to December (32%) in 2022 (PR, 0.93, 95% CI 0.87-0.99), the proportion reporting severe distress increased significantly by 46% (5.7% - 8.3%; PR 1.46, 95% CI 1.21-1.76).
Distress trends were observed to have varied across different sociodemographic characteristics, smoking and drinking habits, and the presence of children in the household. Investigators found that the increase in severe distress was observed across all subgroups, except for individuals aged 65 years and older (PR, 0.79; 95% CI 0.43-1.38).
The study emphasized a sharp increase in severe distress among those under 25 years old since late 2021, rising from 13.6% in December 2021 to 20.2% in December 2022.
With a growing mental health crisis in England, the research offered compelling evidence of the urgent need to address the root causes of the mental health crisis and to adequately fund mental health services, the team stated.
While the prevalence of any psychological distress remained relatively constant, the significant increase in severe distress was noted as a signal of a worsening situation. Specifically acknowledging the unprecedented challenges faced by the population, investigators noted the necessity that policymakers, healthcare providers, and relevant stakeholders prioritize mental health support, especially while coping with the pandemic and socio-economic difficulties,
Immediate action should be taken to identify and address the underlying causes of the mental health decline and ensure sufficient resources are allocated to mental health services, the study stated.