People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have had higher levels of depression and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study that found they experienced “more negative” effects of lockdown than white people.
The findings come from an ongoing Covid-19 social study by University College London (UCL), which is believed to be the UK’s largest study into how adults are feeling about the lockdown and overall wellbeing and mental health.
“People from BAME backgrounds are experiencing more negative effects of lockdown”
More than 70,000 participants have been involved in the project, which has been running for the past 15 weeks and is funded by the Nuffield Foundation with support from Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Main findings from the research identified that people from BAME backgrounds have had higher levels of depression and anxiety during the coronavirus lockdown, as well as lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Overall, 35% of adult participants reported their mental health had been worse than usual, increasing to around half when looking at people from BAME backgrounds, young adults and people with a diagnosed mental illness.
The UCL study also found that thoughts of death, although affecting fewer than 15% of people, had been on average a third higher in BAME groups.
In addition, whilst fewer than 5% of people had reported self-harming during lockdown, these reports had been around 70% higher amongst BAME groups.
Researchers said that, on average, fewer than one in 10 people had experienced psychological or physical bullying or abuse during lockdown, but reports had been around 80% higher amongst BAME groups.
This echoes similar concerns raised in a recent report from Public Health England. It warned institutional racism and bullying at work meant nurses from BAME backgrounds were “afraid to speak up” about issues that put them at a higher risk of Covid-19, such as inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
People from BAME backgrounds within the UCL study were also found to be more worried about unemployment and financial stress than those from white ethnic groups, according to those behind the research.
Meanwhile, confidence in the ability of the health service to cope with the pandemic had been 12% lower among BAME groups than their white counterparts.
Lead study author, Dr Daisy Fancourt said: “Our study shows that people from BAME backgrounds are experiencing more negative effects of lockdown than those from white backgrounds.”
She said this was “especially true around direct and indirect mental health issues”.
“These findings may be due to ethnic inequalities in the UK, with people from BAME backgrounds being statistically more likely to be in risk categories for adverse experiences during the pandemic, such as having lower levels of household income and poorer baseline mental health,” added Dr Fancourt.
“Differences in experiences and inequalities themselves may also be products of individual and systemic racism, an issue highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks.”
Yvonne Coghill, director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) programme at NHS England, has said events of the past six months mean race inequality in the NHS workplace can no longer be denied or ignored.
In an exclusive interview with Nursing Times, Ms Coghill said there was now “so much evidence and data” to show more work must be done to level the playing field for people from BAME backgrounds.
Over the past week, UCL researchers said depression and anxiety levels had shown some improvements, as have levels of happiness and life satisfaction – although these still remained below the usual averages.
“These findings may be due to ethnic inequalities in the UK”
However, Cheryl Lloyd, education programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, noted that “levels of anxiety” about catching coronavirus were similar between different groups in the report.
“We know that people from some ethnic minority groups have higher mortality and infection rates than those from white ethnic groups.
“These findings show that is also true when it comes to reporting poor mental health, even though levels of anxiety about catching Covid-19 are similar between the ethnic groups compared in this report,” she said.
“In trying to understand the reasons for these differences, it is important to bear in mind the other ways in which people from minority ethnic groups are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, for example through being more likely to work in health and social care.
“There will also be notable differences between different minority ethnic groups in relation to their experience of the pandemic,” she noted.
The study team has also received support from Wellcome to launch an international network of longitudinal studies called the COVID-MINDS Network.
Through the network, scientists and clinicians are coming together internationally to collate results from mental health studies running in countries around the world and compare findings.