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The research measured and compared the mental health impact of lockdown on different ethnic groups.

Mental health of BAME men hit hardest by COVID-19, study finds

BAME men experienced a far greater deterioration in their mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown than their white British counterparts, but ethnicity had no impact on women’s declining mental health, a new study suggests.

Research from the University of Exeter Business School and University of Glasgow measured and compared the mental health impact of lockdown on different ethnic groups.

The study used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) of 14,289 people who were interviewed both in 2017-19 and April 2020.

Using the 12-question General Health Questionnaire, which creates an aggregate score for participants’ mental health, BAME men reported a 14% deterioration in their mental health from 2017-19 to April 2020, but for white British males the deterioration was smaller at just 6.5%.

As reported in a previous study, women also struggled with their mental health during lockdown, experiencing a similar drop-off in their mental health to BAME men, but ethnicity was not found to have played a significant role.

Men of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani heritage saw the steepest decline in their mental wellbeing during lockdown, with the difference in their two mental health scores showing a 23% increase in mental distress.

Similar differences in mental health deterioration by ethnic groups were found after removing the influence of likely factors such as age, location, income, education, job type, employment status and family structure.  

The 12-question General Health Questionnaire is a screening device for identifying minor psychiatric disorders, with higher scores indicating higher mental distress.

The study said that while existing reports and studies, including from Public Health England, have established that COVID-19 has replicated and in some cases increased health inequalities between BAME and non-BAME individuals, these have mainly focused on physical – and not mental – health.

The study’s co-author Professor Climent Quintana-Domeque, of the University of Exeter Business School, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting both the physical and mental health of individuals in BAME groups, and this can have dramatic consequences for the exacerbation of existing health and socioeconomic inequalities.”

“Future work should focus on the biological, social and structural differences between ethnic groups that might explain the differential deterioration on mental wellbeing.

“This investigation is necessary to design effective policies that address the ethnic divide in the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The study is published as a working paper in CESifoHCEO and IZA.

Date: 30 July 2020

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