Can British stoicism cause more harm than good? New study reveals that Brits have the highest resilience and sense of solidarity in Europe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many could be masking mental health issues and not asking for help
Today, a new large-scale European study, commissioned and published by Merck, a leading science and technology company, uncovers how habits and behaviours have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The study of 6,000 respondents across 10 European countries found that the UK comes out on top with solidarity (44%) and resilience (40%) - the highest across Europe - being the biggest positive aspects to come out of the pandemic and half (50%) of those surveyed stating their physical health has improved.1 However, their mental health has greatly suffered, and online searches for anxiety and depression have increased.1 Women in particular have been more severely impacted mentally by the pandemic, with one in 10 (10%) stating they needed psychological help.1
Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE, GP says: ”As a GP I know first-hand the toll of the pandemic taken in terms of the mental health of people in the UK, and this impact has been further compounded by the difficulty in accessing mental health services and support. The British mentality shows that there is great resilience in the face of substantial adversity. But this, coupled with the uncertainties, lockdowns and restrictions of the last 18 months, may actually be contributing to the deterioration in mental health seen in the UK compared to other countries in Europe. We need to make sure that resilience isn’t worn as a badge of honour when internally some may be in turmoil. These findings highlight the need to encourage people to speak up and to find better ways to cope with the emotional toll of this pandemic.”
Dr Stuart Hill, Medical Director, Merck UK & Ireland, comments: “With the rise in additional COVID-19 variants and changing guidance we are likely to continue to see an increase in the mental health challenges and health fears highlighted in the survey. Although resilience and solidarity remained high over the past year, the longer-term impact on our lives is likely to see another shift in health behaviours and habits, which could be prevented or significantly reduced if we address them now.”
The physical benefits of the pandemic in the UK
There have been some positives to come out of the pandemic for Brits. These include physical improvements, which could have been used as coping mechanisms during the height of the pandemic, which may in part account for increased resilience. Improvements included adopting healthier habits (37% vs 29% Europe average), doing more outdoor activities (33% vs 28% Europe average) and improving their diets (29% vs 23% Europe average).1 Additionally, two-fifths (42%) have kept up or increased sexual relations and 71% state they kept up their social life a year after the pandemic began,1 which may have contributed to the increased feelings of resilience and solidarity.
Doina Ionescu, Managing Director at Merck Healthcare UK & ROI, explains: "This pandemic has triggered the biggest health, social and economic crisis in almost a century. At Merck we wanted to understand its broader impact on the health and lifestyle of people across Europe and in particular the UK. We are committed to supporting people, particularly patients and carers, especially as many of those with long term health conditions have had additional challenges during the pandemic that have impacted their physical and mental wellbeing. For us, it is crucial to understand more about the issues and concerns they are really facing, particularly considering the ongoing disruption to health services."
The continued mental health challenges for Brits
In the UK almost half (49%) stated that stress and anxiety, closely followed by fear and uncertainty (38%) and feeling lonely (23%) has taken its toll on their emotional health, with a third (33% vs European average of 30%) stating that the pandemic has triggered psychological problems.1 This is further compounded by the lack of mental health services/resources available, with half (52%) feeling further investment is needed.1
Mental anguish has created further health fears for the future amongst those in the UK, with over a quarter (27%) worried about cancer and a fifth (22%) afraid of COVID-19.1 The uncertainty of another health crisis is a common concern with 39% worried about the possibility of further pandemics.1
- Merck survey: Europeans' perception of health two years after the start of COVID-19. 2021.
JOB NUMBER: UI-NONPR-00039
Date of Preparation: December 2021