Lockdown sees Britons give more help to others – but women bear greatest mental health burden

Lockdown has made Britons more neighbourly and willing help people outside of their homes, new figures show.

But taking on extra responsibilities has taken a toll, the research suggests, with women helping out reporting the largest rise in poor mental health.

An ONS survey and analysis found that the proportion of adults providing support to someone outside their household rose four-fold during the first month of the UK lockdown, with 48 per cent of UK adults saying they had helped someone other than their co-habitants in April.

This was up from 11 per cent of adults who reported providing a regular service or help for a sick, disabled, or elderly person not living with them during 2017-2018.

As part of its “Understanding Society” Covid-19 study, the ONS surveyed 6,400 people between April 3 and May 10 and analysed responses. It also included responses from its corresponding Understanding Society study made in 2017-18.

a dining room table in front of a window: While homeworking people have found more time to go out and help others© Provided by Evening Standard While homeworking people have found more time to go out and help others

The ONS noted that the definitions used in each survey differed slightly, but said that the rise in helping out is still a ”substantial increase” from before the coronavirus pandemic and a “useful indicator of change”.

A third of the adults said they were helping someone they had not been supporting before the pandemic. A similar proportion said they were giving more support to people they had helped previously.

Going out grocery shopping and delivering to a vulnerable person was the most common activity people undertook as part of their caring responsibilities.

Other everyday tasks completed included cooking or providing meals and other household chores, helping with internet access, and providing childcare for others.

There was a small gender divide in the extra responsibilities shouldered, with 51 per cent of the women surveyed saying they had taken on these caring roles, compared to 45 per cent of men.

The “sandwich” age group — people aged 45 to 54 likely to have older parents and children under 18 both requiring care— were most likely to report taking on caring responsibilities outside the house.

Almost two-thirds of these lockdown “sandwich carers” were women, according to the ONS study, with 40 as the average age of a sandwich carer of any gender.

Although assisting others outside the home suggests a greater sense of social cohesion, the ONS report found that as more people took on caring responsibilities, a higher proportion of adults reported poor mental health.

People who identify as women reported larger increases in poor mental health than men across the board – and those with extra external caring responsibilities reported the largest.

Women who provided help outside the household and said they had poor mental health rose from 24 per cent in 2017-18 to 37 per cent in April 2020.

A decline in good mental health was also reported by women without these extra responsibilities during lockdown.

a building next to a window: Mental health has suffered as a result of lockdown (Getty Images)© Provided by Evening Standard Mental health has suffered as a result of lockdown (Getty Images)

The number of women surveyed reporting poor mental health who said they were not providing extra support outside the house rose from 23 per cent to 35 per cent.

The analysis also found that although a higher proportion of people helping others felt useful compared with the general population, this group was also more likely to be feeling constantly under strain and losing more sleep than usual.

The wide-ranging study also revealed what people with caring responsibilities are doing to relax and create their own support networks.

It found 55 per cent were using watching films or streaming TV programmes to relax, and 51 per cent turning to exercise for an endorphin release.

A convincing 76 per cent said that family and friends were helping them to cope with the situation.

Source: Standard.co.uk

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