Mental health has worsened since pandemic started, new survey shows

Young people were more likely to report a negative impact due to Covid-19 restrictions

Overall, people’s health declined as a result of the pandemic. Half of those surveyed drank more, smoked more, gained weight or reported mental health problems. Photograph: iStock

Overall, people’s health declined as a result of the pandemic. Half of those surveyed drank more, smoked more, gained weight or reported mental health problems. Photograph: iStock

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More than 80 per cent of people felt a lower level of social connectedness as a result of the pandemic, and 30 per cent of people reported worsening mental health, according to the new Healthy Ireland Survey for 2021.

Women and those aged between 45 and 54 were most likely to report feeling less socially connected.

People were far more likely to socialise via electronic means as opposed to face-to-face, especially during lockdown.

Some 27 per cent of people said the quality of their friendships declined, and 23 per cent reported that the quality of their relationships with their neighbours worsened.

Overall, people’s health declined as a result of the pandemic. Half of those surveyed drank more, smoked more, gained weight or reported mental health problems.

The impact of the Covid-19 restrictions was felt most strongly by younger people, according to the survey. Some 60 per cent of under-25s reported at least one negative change, compared to one-third of people aged 75 and older.

Representative sample

This is the seventh wave of the Healthy Ireland Survey, for which a representative sample of 7,454 people aged 15 and older were interviewed between October 2020 and March 2021.

Some 13 per cent of people who took part in the survey said they lost someone close to them to suicide, and 6 per cent of respondents reported that they attempted to take their own life in the past.

People who reported having “bad” health, along with unemployed people, were more likely to have higher levels of psychological distress.

However, the number of people engaging in binge drinking has reduced since the pandemic started.

Some 22 per cent of drinkers said they binge drank, a decrease compared to the 2018 survey when 37 per cent of drinkers engaged in binge drinking.

Two in five drinkers reported that they drank less compared to their pre-pandemic levels.

The proportion of people smoking remained broadly the same as in previous years at 18 per cent. However, the rate of smoking among 25-34 year olds has declined by 6 per cent since 2019.

Trying to quit

Almost two-fifths of those who smoked in the previous year have tried to quit, and just under a third of current smokers are either trying to quit or actively planning to do so.

Four per cent of those surveyed used e-cigarettes.

Since the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, just under one-third of people reported gaining weight.

One-third of the population reported that they ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Seven per cent of people believed that drinking a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy is safe, but the vast majority of people (84 per cent) said it was unsafe. Just under 10 per cent of people answered that they did not know whether it was safe or unsafe.