Published online Dec 19, 2021. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v11.i12.1346
Peer-review started: June 17, 2021
First decision: July 14, 2021
Revised: August 4, 2021
Accepted: October 20, 2021
Article in press: October 20, 2021
Published online: December 19, 2021
Pandemic mitigation policies, such as lockdown, are known to impact on mental health of individuals. Compulsory face covering under relaxed lockdown restrictions gives assurance of less transmission of airborne infection and has the potential to improve mental health of individuals affected by restrictions.
To examine the association of the lockdown relaxation and the implementation of the face covering policy on the mental health of the general population and sub-groups in the United Kingdom using interrupted time series model.
Using a web-based cross-sectional survey of 28890 United Kingdom adults carried out during May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020, changes in mental health status using generalised anxiety disorder (GAD-7), and impact of events scale-revised (IES-R) scales are examined, at the dates of the first lockdown relaxation (July 4, 2020) and the subsequent introduction of face covering (July 24, 2020) in United Kingdom. A sharp regression discontinuity design is used to check discontinuities in mental health outcomes at policy-change dates.
Average GAD-7 scores of participants were 5.6, 5.6 and 4.3 during the lockdown period, the lockdown relaxation phase and the phase of compulsory face covering, respectively, with lower scores indicating lower anxiety levels. Corresponding scores for IES-R were 17.3, 16.8 and 13.4, with lower scores indicating less distress. Easing lockdown measures and subsequent introduction of face covering, on average, reduced GAD-7 by 0.513 (95%CI: 0.913-0.112) and 1.148 (95%CI: 1.800-0.496), respectively. Corresponding reductions in IES-R were 2.620 (95%CI: 4.279-0.961) and 3.449 (95%CI: 5.725-1.172). These imply that both lockdown relaxation and compulsory face-covering have a positive association with mental health scores (GAD-7 and IES-R).
The differential impact of lockdown and relaxation on the mental health of population sub-groups is evident in this study with future implications for policy. Introduction of face covering in public places had a stronger positive association with mental health than lockdown relaxation.
Core Tip: Positive association of lockdown relaxation and face-covering policies on the mental health (MH) of various population sub-groups is reported. Professional groups and health workers had lower generalised anxiety disorder (GAD-7) scores than other workers. During the compulsory face-covering phase, all professional groups improved on GAD-7 and impact of events scale-revised (IES-R) scores. Significant improvements in MH scores were found among non-key workers. Gender was associated with different MH outcomes during the lockdown, with females scoring higher on the GAD-7 and IES-R scales than males. However, both groups showed a significant improvement in MH status during the period of face-covering, with slightly higher improvements noted in males.