Lockdown can now be measured in weeks in countries around the world (now over a fortnight here in the UK), and people are already feeling the claustrophobic side effects of being trapped at home.
It’s safe to say that the widespread Covid-19 lockdown has caused seismic changes to our daily habits and routines. We can no longer go to the gym to keep in shape, or to a spa retreat to blow off some steam.
Perhaps more importantly, regular sources of support, like counsellors and charities, are under severe strain themselves.
Keeping sane and managing anxiety proves a challenge to many and the whole uncertainty as to when we can go back to normal and what “normal” even means isn’t helpful.
With so much importance and resources currently placed on bio-science research, epidemiology, and virology, the psychological aspects of the pandemic have somewhat faded into the background.
The second wave of our international study fielded in 17 markets between March 31 – April 2 sheds light on another crisis – the one in people’s minds – that’s to follow in the aftermath of the pandemic.
We can already see the impact of this in countries like China where the virus has peaked once and the first wave has ended.
The role of governments, brands, businesses and social media companies is now more important than ever to create virtual environments and tools that promote positive wellbeing and combat the sense of loneliness.
As with all of our dedicated research on this topic, the data and reports are free and ungated for everyone to access. You can download the full report for more detail or analyze the data for yourself in our platform.
Mental health concerns go beyond pre-existing conditions.
The coronavirus pandemic has placed strain on every aspect of our daily lives. Our latest research demonstrates that a staggering 76% of internet users today are concerned about the coronavirus situation in their country.
And this concern isn’t slowing down. In fact, in 10 of the 13 markets where we can trend our data the anxiety around the virus has grown since the middle of March.
This is mostly true of countries that were just approaching the initial stages of lockdown when we conducted our first wave of research like Australia, the UK and the U.S.
So, it’s no wonder that social isolation coupled with being locked at home for unlimited time and growing levels of worry about our loved ones all put to test our psychological stability.
96% of internet users globally reported having at least one of the 22 causes of concern we asked about.
Family and friends catching the virus and the country’s economy tops this list.
And although mental health goes further down on that list, it’s still a quarter of people that report having concerns about their psychological wellbeing.
To put this into perspective, we know from our ongoing global research in 46 markets that it’s only 6% who report having a mental health condition.
The figure might not seem as dramatic as other figures representing concerns directly related to the virus or financial worries, but focusing on things like transmission and virology masks the significance of the issue and its long-term impact.
We can uncover this by looking at individual groups who we found to be more susceptible to stress because of the outbreak.
Those most exposed to the virus – healthcare professionals – are the demographic also experiencing the biggest fear of damaging their mental health and wellbeing at this time.
Doctors and nurses are just behind the most vulnerable group – people with prior history of mental health issues – with 34% of them reporting that they’re concerned about their psychological wellbeing.
Contributing to this statistic are not only the stress levels experienced in the workplace, but also the fact that many of these professionals are forced to completely isolate from their loved ones due to their continuous exposure to the infection.
Lucy Warner, chief executive of NHS Practitioner Health, goes as far as to say that any short-term support might be obsolete right now due to this group’s busy schedules, but “three to six months down the line … staff are likely to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome”.
Other groups like the unemployed, those in relationships and those living with their parents are also at higher risk right now.
The strain of life under quarantine has meant that we spend much more time with people in our households, which in some cases, has resulted in a surge of divorce rates in the aftermath of the lockdown.
It goes to show that there isn’t such a thing as the perfect self-isolation formula.
Mental health should be addressed with the same seriousness as physical health.
Overall, across the 17 markets we surveyed, physical health and fitness (31% are concerned about this) is identified as a bigger concern than mental wellbeing (25%) according to consumers.
We see this pattern across all generations, although the gap between the two shrinks for Gen Z, who are the most likely age group to be most concerned about their mental health at the moment.
We can see how, subconsciously or not, it’s more natural for us to consider our physical wellbeing as more important than our psychological wellness, especially in times when it’s not as easy to stay active and many of us might be feeling like a couch potato.
The truth however, is that our physical and mental health are more interlinked than we might expect. The economic impact of the pandemic, yet to be fully realized, is likely to take a toll on mental health as well.
When we look at the most distinctive anxieties that people with mental health concerns have, it’s loneliness and physical health that stand up the most.
Users who worry about their psychological wellbeing are 91% more likely than average to feel lonely or cut-off.
They’re also 61% more likely to be worried about their physical wellbeing as well.
In fact, those having mental health concerns are nearly as worried about their physical health and fitness (51%) as their family (55%) or themselves (51%) catching the virus.
The importance of looking after one’s mind in the same manner as looking after one’s body is also illustrated when we focus on individual markets.
In five of the countries we tracked (South Africa, Brazil, UK, Ireland and Italy) mental health is a bigger worry than physical health at the moment, while in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the two are equal concerns.
Brazil, South Africa, Italy and India are the countries at the forefront of the mental health crisis that is about to strike the world.
What is particularly interesting about these countries though, is that their populations had the lowest self-reported rates of mental health problems prior to the outbreak.
This once again suggests that if in the past we’ve mostly been worried about vulnerable groups, in times of a large-scale crisis such as this, everyone’s at risk.
Our data shows that the anxiety in Brazil and South Africa is largely underpinned by financial strains above all else.
These markets report the highest levels of concerns related to businesses collapsing, having enough money to live on, paying household bills and looking after children.
Meanwhile, they’re also topping the charts for feeling a dramatic impact on their personal finances, with 20% in South Africa and 18% in Brazil saying this.
The wellness industry is here to support us.
The good news is that people are actually aware of the impact on their mental health and they’re taking active measures to mitigate the stress.
For some, this could be through meditating, decluttering, or cooking; for others, it’s through keeping fit. In fact, things like resistance bands, dumbbells and yoga mats have seen a dramatic spike in interest online over the past month, although of course not as much as toilet paper.
Previous research we have done in the UK and U.S. has also shown that the most popular choice after taking a wellness holiday or time off for reducing stressors and anxiety in life was increasing exercise.
We see a clear reflection of this in our international coronavirus research as well.
84% of internet users globally are doing some kind of exercising or keep-fit activity during the outbreak.
This rises to 87% among those with mental health concerns.
The fact that this figure only falls down to 73% among those who aren’t usually physically active demonstrates that people who haven’t been able to set aside time for exercising before, are doing so now.
It also hints to a scenario whereby being under lockdown means that consumers crave fresh air a lot more than before, and it looks like a lot of us appreciate it.
4 in 10 globally plan to continue spending more time exercising.
This is the top option out of 20+ possibilities in all of the 17 countries surveyed.
Whether this intention will convert to reality remains to be seen, but with 3 in 10 of those with no physical activity prior to the outbreak saying they’ll carry on exercising more once we return to normality, shows a very optimistic post-Covid world for brands in this space.
How can brands help?
The role of governments, brands and businesses at this time is to proactively address the issues consumers might be facing with their lives indoors and adapt quickly to the changing landscape.
Despite so many companies shutting their operations and services, it’s still vital that content is flowing on multiple channels and it’s relevant, useful and entertaining.
Brands shouldn’t shy away from igniting conversation with consumers.
Among those concerned about their mental health, it’s 97% who want to see at least one of the content types listed in the chart above.
Our research shows that these consumers need a degree of escapism from all the doom and gloom right now, with them being 45% more likely than average to want news stories not related to the virus.
Wellness is also among their priorities. Half of these consumers would like to see tips on how to stay healthy and active and they’re 37% ahead of the average to say so.
Independent beauty brands are already jumping to support their customers in that respect by replacing their usual skincare tutorials with tips on meditation and anxiety reduction.
Lifestyle brand Goop has also recorded a dramatic surge in content consumption related to mental wellbeing, with their wellness content category seeing 23% increase in page views.
Brands should thread carefully though. Too often mental health campaigns can be seen as token gestures, disingenuous or simply tone-deaf, and authenticity is key here.
Psychological wellbeing has been something deeply entrenched in the beauty industry pre-outbreak and it does make sense it’s reinforced at this time.
But the possibilities are numerous for all types of businesses. Whether it’s through charity contributions, workplace schemes, or banks helping with financial advice, mental health should be addressed now more than ever.
If you or someone you love has been affected by the topic of this blog and are looking for someone to talk to, there are resources available to help: