Experiences of living with mental health problems during the COVID‑19 pandemic in the UK: a coproduced, participatory qualitative interview study

04 Mar 2021
Steven Gillard · Ceri Dare · Jackie Hardy · Patrick Nyikavaranda · Rachel Rowan Olive · Prisha Shah · Mary Birken · Una Foye · Josephine Ocloo · Ellie Pearce · Theodora Stefanidou · Alexandra Pitman · Alan Simpson · Sonia Johnson · Brynmor Lloyd‑Evans · NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit Covid coproduction research group

Purpose: Research is beginning to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on people with pre-existing mental health conditions. Our paper addresses a lack of in-depth qualitative research exploring their experiences and perceptions of how life has changed at this time.

Methods: We used qualitative interviews (N = 49) to explore experiences of the pandemic for people with pre-existing mental health conditions. In a participatory, coproduced approach, researchers with lived experiences of mental health conditions conducted interviews and analysed data as part of a multi-disciplinary research team.

Results: Existing mental health difficulties were exacerbated for many people. People experienced specific psychological impacts of the pandemic, struggles with social connectedness, and inadequate access to mental health services, while some found new ways to cope and connect to the community. New remote ways to access mental health care, including digital solutions, provided continuity of care for some but presented substantial barriers for others. People from black and ethnic minority (BAME) communities experienced heightened anxiety, stigma and racism associated with the pandemic, further impacting their mental health.

Conclusion: There is a need for evidence-based solutions to achieve accessible and effective mental health care in response to the pandemic, especially remote approaches to care. Further research should explore the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on people with pre-existing mental health conditions. Particular attention should be paid to understanding inequalities of impact on mental health, especially for people from BAME communities.