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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods, and people already experiencing mental ill health may have been especially vulnerable.
Quantify mental health inequalities in disruptions to healthcare, economic activity and housing.
We examined data from 59 482 participants in 12 UK longitudinal studies with data collected before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within each study, we estimated the association between psychological distress assessed pre-pandemic and disruptions since the start of the pandemic to healthcare (medication access, procedures or appointments), economic activity (employment, income or working hours) and housing (change of address or household composition). Estimates were pooled across studies.
Across the analysed data-sets, 28% to 77% of participants experienced at least one disruption, with 2.3–33.2% experiencing disruptions in two or more domains. We found 1 s.d. higher pre-pandemic psychological distress was associated with (a) increased odds of any healthcare disruptions (odds ratio (OR) 1.30, 95% CI 1.20–1.40), with fully adjusted odds ratios ranging from 1.24 (95% CI 1.09–1.41) for disruption to procedures to 1.33 (95% CI 1.20–1.49) for disruptions to prescriptions or medication access; (b) loss of employment (odds ratio 1.13, 95% CI 1.06–1.21) and income (OR 1.12, 95% CI 1.06 –1.19), and reductions in working hours/furlough (odds ratio 1.05, 95% CI 1.00–1.09) and (c) increased likelihood of experiencing a disruption in at least two domains (OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.18–1.32) or in one domain (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.07–1.16), relative to no disruption. There were no associations with housing disruptions (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.97–1.03).
People experiencing psychological distress pre-pandemic were more likely to experience healthcare and economic disruptions, and clusters of disruptions across multiple domains during the pandemic. Failing to address these disruptions risks further widening mental health inequalities.
Existing evidence on profiles of psychological distress across adulthood uses cross-sectional or longitudinal studies with short observation periods. The objective of this research was to study the profile of psychological distress within the same individuals from early adulthood to early old age across three British birth cohorts.
We used data from three British birth cohorts: born in 1946 (n = 3093), 1958 (n = 13 250) and 1970 (n = 12 019). The profile of psychological distress – expressed both as probability of being a clinical case or a count of symptoms based on comparable items within and across cohorts – was modelled using the multilevel regression framework.
In both 1958 and 1970 cohorts, there was an initial drop in the probability of being a case between ages 23–26 and 33–34. Subsequently, the predicted probability of being a case increased from 12.5% at age 36 to 19.5% at age 53 in the 1946 cohort; from 8.0% at age 33 to 13.7% at age 42 in the 1958 cohort and from 15.7% at age 34 to 19.7% at age 42 in the 1970 cohort. In the 1946 cohort, there was a drop in the probability of caseness between ages 60–64 and 69 (19.5% v. 15.2%). Consistent results were obtained with the continuous version of the outcome.
Across three post-war British birth cohorts midlife appears to be a particularly vulnerable phase for experiencing psychological distress. Understanding the reasons for this will be important for the prevention and management of mental health problems.
Dimensional models of psychopathology are increasingly common and there is evidence for the existence of a general dimension of psychopathology (‘p’). The existing literature presents two ways to model p: as a bifactor or as a higher-order dimension. Bifactor models typically fit sample data better than higher-order models, and are often selected as better fitting alternatives but there are reasons to be cautious of such an approach to model selection. In this study the bifactor and higher-order models of p were compared in relation to associations with established risk variables for mental illness.
A trauma exposed community sample from the United Kingdom (N = 1051) completed self-report measures of 49 symptoms of psychopathology.
A higher-order model with four first-order dimensions (Fear, Distress, Externalising and Thought Disorder) and a higher-order p dimension provided satisfactory model fit, and a bifactor representation provided superior model fit. Bifactor p and higher-order p were highly correlated (r = 0.97) indicating that both parametrisations produce near equivalent general dimensions of psychopathology. Latent variable models including predictor variables showed that the risk variables explained more variance in higher-order p than bifactor p. The higher-order model produced more interpretable associations for the first-order/specific dimensions compared to the bifactor model.
The higher-order representation of p, as described in the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology, appears to be a more appropriate way to conceptualise the general dimension of psychopathology than the bifactor approach. The research and clinical implications of these discrepant ways of modelling p are discussed.
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