COVID-19 social study

Researchers: Dr Daisy Fancourt | Prof Andrew Steptoe

Project overview


This project will explore the psychological and social experiences of adults in the UK during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Beginning 23 March 2020, large numbers of people across the UK were in imposed isolation, for potentially significant periods of time, because of COVID-19. This is the largest enforced isolation in living history, and as such it remains unknown how this will affect the mental health and social functioning of individuals.

Research has demonstrated the adverse effects on physical health, including increases in coronary heart disease and stroke. However, quarantine and enforced social isolation pose additional challenges. Studies conducted during other virus outbreaks have found that factors such as boredom, inadequate supplies and information, financial loss, and stigma can have negative psychological effects lasting up to 3 years after an event. Moreover, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, young people, and people with lower educational qualifications appear to be especially vulnerable. These negative effects are especially concerning as they occurred after just 7-30 days of isolation. No studies have been identified that look at effects beyond this length of quarantine.

The study has five core aims:

  1. To understand the psychological and social impact of COVID-19
  2. To map how the psychosocial impact evolves over time as social isolation measures increase and once measures are relaxed
  3. To ascertain which groups are at greatest risk of adverse effects
  4. To explore the interaction between psychosocial impact and adherence to healthy and protective behaviours
  5. To identify activities during isolation that could buffer against adverse effects

To achieve these objectives the research team will conduct a mixed-methods study, comprising two main strands of work. The first is a panel survey of 50,000 UK adults collecting weekly data on psychological and social experiences whilst the pandemic is ongoing. This will include data about mental and physical health, behaviours and attitudes relating to COVID-19, loneliness and isolation, and daily activities.

The second is an in-depth qualitative study of the psychosocial experiences of over 150 adults, focusing on 8 subgroups: young people aged 18-24, healthy adults with young children, adults with a long-term physical health condition, adults with a mental health condition, older adults, freelance workers, front-line healthcare workers, and other key workers. Qualitative interviews will explore experiences of social isolation, how different aspects of social and working lives are affected, and the commonalities and specific vulnerabilities experienced by different groups.

Findings from the project will be published regularly to inform our understanding of the ways in which the pandemic is affecting peoples’ everyday lives, identify activities that could mitigate adverse effects of isolation, and support policy responses both during and after the pandemic.

Latest on this project


Team


  • Dr Daisy Fancourt
    University College London
  • Prof Andrew Steptoe
    University College London

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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