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Negative impact of lockdowns will endure beyond pandemic

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Almost half of people feel the pandemic has had a negative impact on their health, according to new research highlighting the severe impact of Covid-19 on the nation’s mood.

Data from the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) shows that while some people were able to make lifestyle improvements or better health decisions early in the pandemic, these gains dwindled as Covid-19 continued to disrupt lives this year.

More than half of adults surveyed (53pc) claimed they experience at least occasional periods of doubt and worry, with one in five saying they are subjected to more frequent and significant bouts of anxiety or concern.

Concerns about mental well-being are most pronounced among women aged 35 or older. These intense experiences increased among younger people in 2021 compared with the first phase of the pandemic.

A quarter of 16 to 25-year-olds reported experiencing “significant worries quite often” or worrying a lot because they have “poor control” of their mental health and emotions. This represents a 3pc increase in the past year. Almost one third (31pc) of people aged 25 to 34 were in these two categories, a 5pc increase compared with 2020.

Almost a quarter of women surveyed (24pc) said they feel in control of their mental health or emotions and rarely worry. This compares with more than a third of men (34pc).

IPU’s pharmacy contractors’ committee chair, Kathy Maher, said the findings are evidence of the pandemic also affecting the health of people who did not contract Covid-19.

Only one-third of people who participated in the research indicated the pandemic had no great impact on their health.

Almost one in five people (18pc) said the pandemic had a “significant” impact on their health, while 30pc said it had “some” impact.

“Some people reported positive health benefits from the pandemic, including better exercise and diet. However, these benefits have faded considerably as the pandemic has continued,” Ms Maher said.

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“This research shows Covid-19 has had an impact on the health of the nation far beyond those who contracted the virus.

“While the disease disproportionately affected older people, the negative impacts of lockdowns appear to have been most profoundly felt by younger people. Those aged over 65 were more than three times more likely (36pc) to cite ‘no impact’ when compared with adults under 24 (11pc).”

Last year, significant numbers of people reported being able to exercise more (28pc), eat better (14pc), get more sleep (21pc), spend more time with family (20pc) and experience less work-related stress (15pc). Now, while almost 20pc of people are still exercising more, this represents a 10pc decrease since last year.

Only 6pc of people are spending more time with family (down 14pc). Meanwhile, the numbers reporting eating and sleeping better halved in the past 12 months.

Just 4pc said they experience less work-related stress now, an 11pc drop.

The survey, by Behaviour and Attitudes, asked 1,011 people about their health and experiences during the pandemic. Ms Maher said the data highlights the future challenges to support people after the pandemic.

“As the final easing of restrictions now appears imminent, it is important not to forget the very profound and difficult experience society has been through,” she added.

“We must study these impacts, learn from them and provide support to individuals who may require it.”

People reporting anxiety or depression rose to 25pc in the past year (up 6pc), according to the survey. This coincided with a rise in the number of people who were worried about catching Covid-19 in the second year of the pandemic.

Last year, 23pc of people said they were worried about catching the virus. This figure increased by 3pc in the past 12 months.

Some improvements were also highlighted in the report.

Last year, more than one-third of people (35pc) said they were eating too much or gaining weight. This year, that figure has dropped to 28pc; last year, 14pc of people reported they were drinking too much, but this has dropped to 10pc now.

There has also been a marginal gain in the number of people who deferred hospital treatment for a health issue, down one percentage point to 12pc compared with a year ago.

“Only a quarter of the adult population indicate that they have experienced ‘no personal health impact’ and, interestingly, as both local and international studies have also shown, a lack of impact is much more likely to be claimed by older than by younger adults,” the report said.

“There has been a notable reduction in the numbers indicating that they have taken the time to catch up more with friends and family, or indeed to experience less work-related stress.

“As the novelty of the pandemic has started to wear off, aspects that people had derived some positivity from have started to fade.”


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