ONS statistics reveal an increase in depression among UK adults during the pandemic

The second national study on the link between the coronavirus pandemic and depression has been released by the ONS. 

The latest research covers the period between January and March when the UK was in tight lockdown restrictions.  

The analysis collected data from adults in the UK and took several factors into account such as ethnicity, financial status, and home ownership.  A questionnaire was produced and contained a series of questions about depression and depressive symptoms.  

The survey asked several questions around mood, sleeping and eating habits, over the previous two weeks prior to the survey, including:

  • How often have you been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things? 
  • How often have you been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless? 
  • How often have you been bothered by having trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much? 
  • How often have you been bothered by feeling tired or having little energy? 
  • How often have you been bothered by having a poor appetite or overeating? 
  • How often have you been bothered by feeling negative about yourself or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down? 
  • How often have you been bothered by having trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television? 
  • How often have you been bothered by moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed; or being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual? 

These questions had four response options ranging from 0 (Not at all) to 3 (Nearly every day). A “depression score” was then derived by summing all responses chosen, resulting in a score ranging from 0 to 24. The higher the score, the greater the severity of depressive symptoms. 


The most alarming result from the survey found that one in five adults suffered from depressive symptoms over the period, January to March, more than double the number in the years preceding 2020. Moreover, the percentage of adults suffering from depressive symptoms increased from 19% in November of 2020, to 21% in January, Febuary and March.  

34% of adults aged 16 to 29 stated they experienced some form of depressive symptoms, in comparison to 10% of the over 70 age group.

Responses from healthcare 

The Royal College of General Practitioners released a statement highlighting how GPs were at the frontline of mental health care.  

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said of the release of the ONS statistics: “Today’s figures show the impact the pandemic has had on many patients’ mental health – and GPs and our teams are on the front line of caring for them. We see in our surgeries both the direct mental health impact of the pandemic on patients who may have had COVID-19 or are suffering with longer term symptoms of the virus – and the indirect impact, for example on those who have mental health problems associated with the social and/or economic impact of lockdown restrictions. 

 “The increasing numbers of patients presenting mental health conditions is one example of the increasing complexity of GP work during the pandemic – and highlights the need for GPs to have more time with their patients. General practice is busier than ever – with figures showing we made almost 15m consultations in March, up 20% on February, as well as leading the COVID vaccination programme, with 75% of vaccinations being delivered in primary care. 

 “GPs and our teams are forefront of helping communities recover from the pandemic, including ensuring patients receive the mental health care they need. To do this, our profession needs the support of Government and policy makers – we urgently need to see plans to address the intense workload and workforce pressures facing general practice, so that we can continue delivering the care our patients need and deserve.” 

The Health Foundation, the independent charity also responded to the survey results. Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said: 

“Today’s new data from the Office for National Statistics, which reveals that depression rates have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began, forewarns of a growing mental health crisis in the UK. Particularly concerning is that those in more precarious economic positions or burdened by existing inequalities – young people, women, clinically vulnerable adults, disabled people and those living in the most deprived areas of England – have been disproportionately affected. This suggests that inequalities in our society have worsened as a result of the pandemic. Despite increasing rates of depression, diagnoses by GPs fell by almost a quarter, suggesting access to mental health care is in decline. Our COVID-19 impact inquiry has found that reduced access to care will have long-term implications on mental health and put even greater pressure on health services.” 

Mind, the mental charity also commented on the latest statistics: Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, said: 
“We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health – whether that’s bereavement, the devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, or the impact of the latest economic recession which may have affected our jobs and livelihoods. 
“This latest data from the ONS is worrying but not surprising, as it chimes with our own research. We surveyed 16,000 people during the initial lockdown and found that the pandemic has taken its toll on the nation’s wellbeing, with two in three young people (68 per cent) said their mental health got worse during the initial lockdown, compared to three in five (60 per cent) adults. 
“The fact that GP-diagnosed cases of adult depression have fallen during the pandemic suggests people are not going to their GP for help, perhaps because they’re concerned about placing extra pressure on the NHS. This is worrying because we know that left untreated, mental health problems become more difficult and expensive to treat.”