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General wellbeing reverts back to pre-pandemic levels for Northern Ireland

Woman smiling
Image source: Bruno Adam (Unsplash)

The psychological weight of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be easing in people living in Northern Ireland, according to new survey findings

As the world exits what feels like a long-overstayed period of hibernation, the psychological impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and all of the social restrictions that came with it, is becoming clear.

In the UK, the period of unconventional living has proven to be a significant burden for many people, as spikes in rates of anxiety, depression, and stress – among many other mental health issues – would suggest.

A similar story has panned out in Northern Ireland. The country's principal source of official statistics and social research, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NIRSA), has been tracking social wellbeing throughout the pandemic and, until January of this year, found that the possibility of mental health and psychiatric problems had risen substantially.

Using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) to measure wellbeing across the country, it found that 30% of people had a worryingly high score that coincides with a high possibility of mental health issues.

But it seems this trend may have come to an end with NIRSA's latest round of findings.

From May to June of this year, this 30% figure dropped to 19%, representing a complete reversion of general wellbeing to figures seen before the pandemic.

Graph showing proportion of people with a high GHQ-12 score, by month of interview
Proportion of people with a high GHQ-12 score, by month of interview. Source: NISRA Coronavirus (Covid-19) Opinion Survey

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The GHQ-12 is a screening tool used to detect the possibility of psychiatric morbidity within the general population, using 12 questions about recent general levels of happiness, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance. A score is then given between zero and twelve, with a score of 4 or more being referred to as ‘high’ and therefore a respondent with potential mental health problems.

Whilst the survey cannot be used as a conclusive indicator of mental health, it is a positive sign that mental health problems being caused by or exacerbated by the pandemic could be on the decline.

A sign of positivity, or an evolution of concerns?

Then again, the improvement may be more to do with a change in concerns for people in Northern Ireland, warns Samaritans spokeswoman Julie Aiken.

“We are continuing to hear from people feeling concerned about coronavirus amongst issues including loneliness and isolation, mental health and family,” Aiken told News Letter. “We know that the pandemic will have long term effects on people’s mental health.

“The ways in which callers talk about coronavirus have evolved since restrictions were imposed. In times of greater restrictions, we heard from more callers concerned about the risks and the effects of being exposed to the virus.

"However, as restrictions have eased, concerns have mostly been about the knock-on effects of social distancing restrictions, including financial and mental health worries.”

Read the full NIRSA report here.


Written by Sylvie Ward

News reporter for Talking Mental Health

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