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Background The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented global crisis necessitating drastic changes to living conditions, social life, personal freedom and economic activity. No study has yet examined the presence of psychiatric symptoms in the UK population in similar conditions. Aims We investigated the prevalence of COVID-19 related anxiety, generalised anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms in a representative sample of the UK population during an early phase of the pandemic, and estimated associations with variables likely to influence these symptoms. Method Between March 23rd and March 28th 2020, a quota sample of 2025 UK adults 18 years and older, stratified by age, sex and household income, was recruited by online survey company Qualtrics. Participants completed measures of depression (PHQ9), generalised anxiety (GAD7), and trauma symptoms relating to the pandemic (ITQ). Bivariate and multivariate associations were calculated for age, gender, rural vs urban environment, presence of children in the household, income, loss of income, pre-existing health conditions in self and someone close, infection in self and someone close, and perceived risk of infection over the next month. Results Higher levels of anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms were reported compared to previous population studies, but not dramatically so. Meeting the criteria for either anxiety or depression, and trauma symptoms was predicted by young age, presence of children in the home, and high estimates of personal risk. Anxiety and depression symptoms were also predicted by low income, loss of income, and pre-existing health conditions in self and other. Specific anxiety about COVID-19 was greater in older participants. Conclusions The UK population, especially older citizens, were largely resilient in the early stages of the pandemic. However, several specific COVID-related variables are associated with psychological distress: particularly having children at home, loss of income because of the pandemic, as well as having a pre-existing health condition, exposure to the virus and high estimates of personal risk. Further similar surveys, particularly of those with children at home, are required as the pandemic progresses.
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