A surprising one in four Britons report a positive improvement in mental health during lockdown. Why is this - and what is the situation with the rest of Great Britain?
To coincide with the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, The Healthy Work Company released data from research during week seven of lockdown, assessing the mental health of British workers.
The report shows extremes in the nation's mental health with almost one in four (24%) seeing an improvement to mental health and 8% "flourishing". Of those questioned, 41% feel ‘about the same’ as usual and a further one in three (32%) reported a decline or negative movement in their mental health.
With 43% of respondents saying they have more spare time, the research analysed how people are using this time and whether or not that supports their mental health.
Other key findings:
1 in 3 (33%) strongly agree that “I have felt a greater sense of gratitude for my life than usual”
A similar proportion strongly agree that “I have savoured things such as walks, sunsets, food more than I usually do”
Just over 1 in 4 (27%) have enjoyed family time more than usual,
Almost 1 in 3 (32%) report that their communication with friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues has become more open and honest during lockdown.
More than half are making time for hobbies
Those finding more reasons to laugh are one of the most positive groups in terms of their well-being with more than 1 in 3 (35%) reporting a positive impact on their mental health
44% want more flexibility in work when they return
58% of Brits are committing to more exercise when lockdown ends
The spectrum of emotions experienced is extreme
Here we see the emotions participants used to describe their lockdown experience (where the bigger the word = the greater number of mentions of that emotion).
Heather Beach, director and founder of The Healthy Work Company, says, "It is impossible to summarise the lockdown as one single entity, as the emotions span such a wide-reaching spectrum. Whilst frustration and feelings of anxiety come through most strongly, there are many positives that people are taking from the experience such as happiness, relaxation, peacefulness and gratitude."
The data we collected shows that whilst there is certainly poorer mental health as a result of this period, one in four people have better mental health than before and 8% of those are actually flourishing.
"We have looked at what people are doing in this period and correlated that with what may be helping them to cope better as well as what definitely hinders coping. Across the spectrum, once this period is over, many people are looking to work more flexibly, more from home, and less hours than before.
"It is our opinion from having trained thousands of people and conducted organisational wellbeing reports, that our old way of life - with commute, lengthy hours and increasing numbers of things to do at home was not working and if companies want healthy, productive employees then looking at these desires will be important."
It is only when we separate those who are flourishing from those experiencing negative impact on their mental health that a clearer picture emerges.
Of those struggling with their mental health more than usual
44% of those with pre-existing mental health conditions report that the lockdown experience has had a negative impact on their mental health
Amongst those drinking more alcohol, 40% report a negative shift in their mental health, and for those consuming more treats, this figure is 36%.
45% want more flexibility at work
58% want to do more exercise
50% want to live healthier
Factors which may improve flourishing
There are certain mindsets around ‘gratitude’ and ‘savouring’ that appear to link to a positive impact on mental health during lockdown.
1 in 3 (33%) strongly agree that “I have felt a greater sense of gratitude for my life than usual” and amongst this group, 14% are thriving. A similar proportion strongly agree that “I have savoured things such as walks, sunsets, food more than I usually do”, with 12% of this group flourishing. Just over one in four (27%) have enjoyed family time more than usual, and 14% of this group are flourishing.
Furthermore, using one’s free time to slow down, become more spiritual / in tune with nature and (re)connect with one’s partner may also offer marginal gains to happiness levels
We see some people having a lot more spare time on their hands (43% agree) whereas many others report being busier. The main benefits of this free time have been to save money and carry out DIY/maintenance. However, these activities don’t appear to have been crucial factors in helping people flourish, with well-being levels no greater than the total sample. Analysing the more niche activities, we see increased levels of flourishing amongst those who slow down and enjoy things a little more, get to know their partner better and those who become more spiritual / in tune with nature.
Those experiencing more ‘authentic’ communication with others are more likely to be flourishing
Almost 1 in 3 (32%) report that their communication with friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues has become more open and honest during lockdown. This is also the group who are most likely to be thriving, with 33% experiencing a positive shift in their mental health. 11% of this group who experience more ‘authentic’ communication are flourishing.
More than 1 in 3 (35%) are making time for old hobbies, but it is finding new hobbies that point to the greatest positive impact on mental health
During the lockdown, more than 1 in 3 are making time for old hobbies, with almost 1 in 4 have made time for new hobbies.
Regular exercise, video calls with friends/family, and finding reasons to laugh top the list of positive things we can do during the lockdown
Those doing more light exercise than before lockdown are more likely to be experiencing positive mental health benefits. The biggest extremes however are amongst those who’ve stopped or started light exercise as a result of the lockdown. Amongst those who have started light exercise, 10% are flourishing. However, for the small proportion who have stopped light exercise, 40% are experiencing a negative impact on their mental health, and no-one in this group was found to be flourishing.
As we move from socialising in restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars, many people have found video calls the best way to stay in touch with friends and family. Whilst the majority (73%) were already making use of video calling, it is those who have just started this activity who are most likely to be thriving (13% report they are flourishing), as they find new ways to connect with loved ones.
People who are finding more ways to laugh (16% of our sample) are one of the most positive groups in terms of their well-being. 13% are flourishing, with more than 1 in 3 (35%) reporting a positive impact on their mental health. They also appear to be reducing their chances of negative impact on their mental health. Just 1% of those who aren’t able to find ways to have a laugh, or who laugh less, are flourishing. Almost 2 in 3 (63%) of this group report a negative impact of the lockdown on their mental health.
Negative impacts on mental health
We’re drinking more alcohol and having more regular treats through the day…but these aren’t conducive to improving our mental health
1 in 3 (33%) tell us they are consuming more alcohol and almost 1/2 (44%) are enjoying more treats through the day, like biscuits or sweets. However, neither appears to support an improvement in well-being in this period. Amongst those drinking more alcohol, 40% report a negative shift in their mental health, and for those consuming more treats, this figure is 36%. Again, we cannot determine cause and effect here, but the data suggests that alcohol and treats are not making us happier on the whole.
Looking to the Future
When lockdown ends, workers are looking to gain more flexibility and/or work from home more. Outside of work, people are looking to be healthier, spend less and be more sociable.
The lockdown has had wide-ranging effects on people’s well-being – over half the population report their mental health levels to have changed since the lockdown came into force. We find that the crucial factors which may increase your chances of flourishing during the lockdown encompass your mindset, use of your free time and selective use of news and social media. Those who are being grateful and savouring life report a more positive lockdown experience, as do those taking up new hobbies, monitoring their alcohol consumption and taking time to slow down. After the lockdown, people are looking for flexibility in how and where they work, and to be healthier, more sociable and more cost conscious.
Visit The Healthy Work Company Website for more information