With January over a month which the media regularly comment on what can be a difficult time of the year, with days made known such as ‘Blue Monday’, claiming to be ‘the most depressing day of the year.’ This year, it is further highlighted due to the significant reports of people feeling unsettled and increases in anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research recently carried out by the mental health charity MIND identified that over half of UK adults and two out of three young people said their mental health got worse during the first national lockdown. Similarly, the Mental Health Foundation reported that 62% of the adult UK population had felt anxious or worried during the pandemic. The overall study ‘Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic’ showed that people’s mental health was affected by social distancing measures and their economic surroundings. It also concludes that on a population-wide basis, the negative mental health effects of the pandemic were likely to last much longer than its physical health impacts.
Both articles outline the benefits of regular walking, accessing nature and green spaces and the importance of conversation to support positive mental health, particularly during the pandemic. The interventions resonate with other publications, such as ‘Walk this way’ carried out by BMC Psychiatry, where a group of participants with serious mental illness from three community mental health teams entered into a walking intervention. The study monitored 40 people with the GENEActiv over 17 weeks to objectively measure sedentary behaviour and physical activity. The intervention group saw sedentary behaviour reduce by 56 minutes and total physical activity increase by over half an hour per day on average, which was sustained 6 months later.
The GENEActiv has been widely used in mental-health research and is also now being used to look at the long-term physical effects of COVID-19 in studies both in the UK and USA. Activinsights technologies are being used to support the PHOSP-COVID research programme, with the University of Leicester and local NHS Trust. The GENEActiv is being used to collect continuous patient lifestyle data outside of the clinical environment to investigate the long-term health outcomes of patients who were hospitalised with COVID-19.
In the meantime, it is clear as we continue with the second wave of the pandemic, the effects of physical distancing and social isolation increases the mental health challenges for the UK population. Resources and support from charities such as MIND provide accessible tools to help individual’s cope with the pandemic daily, whilst researchers continue to identify coping techniques.