On behalf of the whole UCL-Penn Global Covid Study team, THANK YOU to everyone who tuned into the webinar series!
This summer, the UCL-Penn Global Covid Study held a free, virtual webinar series sponsored by the UCL Global Engagement Fund. Over 5 talks, with speakers and discussants from all over the world, we explored how COVID-19 impacted our mental health, physical health, and relationships. If you missed any of the sessions, or want to watch them again, you can find recordings of all the sessions here.
No time? Read on for a summary of the key findings and recommendations from each session!
1. Lockdown impacts Mental Health: Greece and UK
2. How Do We Trust (Again)? Paranoia & Mental Health
4. Doctoral Students’ Educational Stress & Mental Health
5. Let’s Talk! What do you need to recover from the pandemic?
We hope that you were able to learn something new and help you think about what you and your country can do to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay in touch at email@example.com and be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter for exciting developments in our study’s goal to make our findings as accessible as possible, including a podcast and sharing our findings on the UCL Open Environment!
We are very excited to invite you to our FREE virtual webinar series, ‘Lessons from COVID-19: Reflections, Resilience and Recovery‘. For five Wednesdays between 2 June to 28 July 2021, 5-6:30pm (GMT) we’ll have a chance to share and discuss our findings with you on how COVID-19 has impacted our livelihoods, health and relationships. Importantly, we’d love the opportunity to hear from you! Want to learn more?
This webinar series will feature speakers from across 6 institutions from Italy (University of Trento), Singapore (Nanyang Technological Univeristy), USA (University of Pennsylvania, University of Massachusettes Lowell), China (Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the UK (University College London) and experts working in the field.
2. Who are these talks for?
Anyone and everyone! Given that the pandemic has affected all of us in differing ways, your input is as good as any. We would really value your participation in the interpretation and understanding of our findings and as always, the sharing of your experiences of the past year. In these challenging times, we’d like to bring people from all walks of life to reflect on the past year, engage in discussion about the lessons from COVID-19 in order to assess the ways in which we can recover better. We hope you will join us!
Our 5 webinars cover a range of topics including COVID’s impact on mental health in the general population across different countries, family relationships and social trust in others, postgraduate student wellbeing in higher education and what kinds of support we need to recover. We hope there is something for everyone!
As we approach Wave 3 of data collection for the Global Covid Study (April 17th 2021), here’s a summary of what we’ve found so far!
Key lockdown stressors
The top sources of stress for our participants throughout lockdowns 1 and 2 were other people not social distancing (51.8%), uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (50.8%), future plans (46.3%), mental health (33.4%) and boredom and loneliness (30%). In lockdown 3, government’s COVID-19 guidance (47%) and other people not wearing masks/gloves (51%) were added to the list of key stressors.
Changes in prevalence and attitudes to mask usage
In the first lockdown, UK participants reported a lower prevalence of face coverings being used in the community (<30%) compared to Italy (>80%), the USA (50-80%) and Hong Kong (90-100%). Of the UK participants, 55% expressed they firmly believe in the efficacy of wearing face coverings outdoors. This percentage was much higher in Italy (78%), the USA (85%) and Hong Kong (97%). By the second lockdown, mask wearing in the UK had increased to around 50%.
Age group differences
Compared to other age groups, COVID-19 appears to be having the strongest impact on participants aged 18-24 in terms of their mental health, stress and time spent doing mild exercise. Participants of all ages are being affected by levels of loneliness.
Loneliness in particular has been identified as a key risk factor for lockdown. Our colleagues in Italy found “U-shaped” patterns of self-perceived loneliness in the UK and Greece, with loneliness decreasing significantly in Week 4 and 5 of the first lockdown and then rising again in Week 6. We are currently testing whether Wave 1 findings replicate in Wave 2 data during lockdown 2 and 3 in the UK and most of Europe and these findings will be presented at our summer webinar in June-July 2021 which is open to the public.
We’ve found no gender differences across psychological constructs except for empathy and anxiety, where female participants have reported on average higher levels of anxiety and empathy compared to males. Although, it is important to note that like other COVID studies, we also have a higher number of female respondents than males (74% females).
Teacher’s mental health
Of our participants, 319 are teaching/educational professionals. Compared to the general population (n = 1117), there was no difference on levels of anxiety, depression, stress, sleep quality or aggression after controlling for gender, age and site.
For more information on how you can cope with various stressors that have arisen or have been emphasised in the COVID era, check out:
We asked our participants whether they would take the COVID vaccine when it became available to them (back in October 2020 through January 2021). The word clouds below represent the most common reasons for whether they are likely, unlikely or unsure to get vaccinated.
Testing positive for COVID and experiences of loss
We asked our participants “Do you know any friend(s)/family member(s) who have tested positive for COVID-19?” and found that in the first lockdown the majority of participants responded No (70.6%), with only 29.0% responding Yes. This changed in the second lockdown, where 61.8% of participants responded No and 38.2% responded Yes (13.9% tested positive themselves, and 7.9% tested positive themselves along with at least one family member).
We also asked our participants “Do you know anyone who has passed away from COVID-19?” and found that more than half knew of at least one acquaintance (59.8%), 25.2% lost a family member and 20.5% have lost a friend to COVID-19.
Despite the difficulties and challenges COVID-19 has created, participants have identified some positive outcomes from the pandemic such as strengthening solidarity and cohesion between family members, friends, and communities, increased volunteering and acts of good will and more hygienic behaviour.
It’s hard to believe that it’s now been over a year since COVID-19 interrupted our lives. With the UK government’s recent release of their roadmap out of lockdown, 21st June 2021 is certainly a date to look forward to. The light at the end of the tunnel is near! So let’s keep washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and getting our vaccinations so we can make this (hopefully) the last lockdown.
Exciting things to come!
As one of 53 UCL projects led by UCL academics that have recently won the 2020/2021 UCL Global Engagement Fund (GEF), we are excited to launch a summer webinar series over June and July 2021 where our research team will be presenting on our findings to the public. This is a free event involving UCL and Penn alumni groups around the world. You are invited! Check back on our website in May to see how you can sign-up!
From all of us in the Global Covid Study team, we hope you’re all staying safe and wish you a Happy Easter!
This post was co-written by Ms. Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh), an MEd Psychology and Education student at the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates for a potential vaccine have been making global headlines. Pfzier‘s BNT162b2 and Moderna‘s mRNA-1273 in particular are showing encouraging effectiveness rates of +90% in providing protection against the virus in clinical trials. Today, the UK Government will begin vaccinating Britons with Pfzier’s vaccine who are part of high priority groups such as adults aged 80+, adults in care homes and frontline health care workers. Until more of the groups have been vaccinated, it is important that we all continue to follow government guidelines, social distance, and wear masks.
These past weeks leading up to the vaccine rollout, I had several conversations with people who tried to convince me that COVID-19 is “a hoax” and that they would not be taking the vaccine when it becomes available to them. These conversations inspired me to look deeper into what health experts are calling the next challenge in the fight against COVID-19: Vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine hesitancy: where did it come from?
Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the refusal, delay or acceptance of doubts concerning the safety and usefulness of vaccines. Vaccines have been called one of the most important innovations in the history of medicine. However, vaccination rates have declined all across the world. This shift in attitudes towards vaccines is commonly attributed to an article published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield (1998), who proclaimed a false link between the MMR vaccination and onset of autism spectrum disorder. Wakefield was consequently struck off the medical register and is now an avid campaigner for anti-vaccine movements in the US.
From our UCL-Penn Global Covid Study (see webinar), we investigated vaccine hesitancy too. Over 65% of our participants were likely/very likely to take the vaccine, but the remaining 35% were either unsure or unlikely/very unlikely to take the COVID vaccine.
Why is this the case?
Our participants tell us that some are ‘unsure’ because it’s a bigger issue regarding vaccines in general, they don’t know whether it will work. Participants talk about vaccination going against their core beliefs and won’t need it if they are healthy. In a smaller group, some participants tell us they don’t really need it because they are not at-risk, there is a lot of talk about distrust in the government on vaccine development, and a general hesitancy towards injecting something that we don’t yet know much about was also a common consensus. As with the majority who are likely/very likely to get vaccinated, themes of gauranteeing freedom of travel and interaction with loved ones was very common, the belief in science and the rigorous development process, as well as public health as a common good, doing the right thing to control the virus and keeping everyone else safe.
What causes vaccine hesitancy?
Three factors have been globally identified to cause vaccine hesitancy: confidence, complacency (seeing vaccines as not useful), and convenience (seeing too many barriers to access health or vaccination services). The particular factor of confidence has been suggested to depend on an individual’s confidence in:
In addition, researchers have identified the popularity of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories as a factor that promotes vaccine hesitancy. In a 2014 study, British parents completed questionnaires measuring the strength of their beliefs in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and the likelihood that they would vaccinate a fictional child. The researchers found that the stronger the beliefs, the less likely the parents would vaccinate the fictitious child. This relationship was influenced by the parents’ perceived dangers of vaccines, feelings of powerlessness, and mistrust in authorities.
Six months since the launch of our survey on 17 April, we are now following-up participants with our second survey. We are very pleased to have received 500+ returns in our first week – thank you! So if you took part in the first wave, you should have now received a personalised follow-up link. If you didn’t get to take part last time, or know someone who would like share their experience on the impacts of COVID-19, you can join here. We’d love to hear from you!
So, with the start of the new wave, the Research Assistants from our team (who are also the authors behind the fantastic blogs that you have read) would like to first share their experiences surrounding COVID-19. In particular, what are their personal worries, lessons learned working on the study, where they are headed next and their advice for students going into university/work today.
Q1: What inspired you to get involved with the study?
“I was inspired to get involved in this study because I felt like the voice of our generation was not really being heard in the midst of the pandemic. I felt that university students, specifically, were being under-represented and not given enough consideration regarding how this was affecting our mental health and life trajectories.” – Reina, Year 3 BSc Psychology with Education, University College London
“As part of my master’s Thesis, I was planning on studying the differences in levels of mistrust between children in the UK and Lebanon, but due to the pandemic, I could not visit schools and had to modify my research topic. My supervisor and the PI of the Global Covid Study research, Dr. Keri Wong, suggested that I get involved with the study. At least I can help collect data while benefiting from the responses obtained on the survey.” – Laetitia, MSc Child Development, University College London
“My degree at UCL was largely foundational and theoretical so I was very excited to engage with current research and apply the skills I’d acquired to it. In addition, the start of the pandemic in particular had resulted in the propagation of misinformation; I felt privileged to work within a legitimate research team that was going to generate valid conclusions.” – Keya, Psychological Assistant at Catch22
“My final year of undergraduate study came to an abrupt end and I was struggling coming to terms with it and saying early goodbyes to friends and colleagues. While in lockdown, I was diligent in encouraging my peers to continue to be inspired by research in psychology and education by founding the UCL Psychology with Education Society. Dr. Keri Wong asked me to share the study on the society’s platforms and I asked her whether she was looking for assistance. I thought that this would be a meaningful way to support not only students at UCL, but students all over the world in sharing psychological knowledge and concepts that can help us cope with COVID-19.” – Kyleigh, MEd Psychology and Education, University of Cambridge
Q2: Have your worries surrounding COVID changed since March?
“My worries have changed since March. I think in the beginning I was very worried about personally getting sick, but as I came to understand more about COVID-19, my concern shifted to being about social responsibility. I started to become more and more worried about how some lacked awareness for how much each of our individual actions are affecting those around us and essentially, every other individual.” – Reina
“Since the pandemic erupted, the way media fed us information influenced greatly how we acted and responded to the crisis. Initially, a lot of people were scared and took great precaution while a few months later people showed little compliance to the rules. Personally, I wasn’t worried for myself as much as I was worried about the vulnerable population including some members of my family. I still follow social distancing rules and wear masks and wish more people would too, especially in London considering the increase of death due to the Covid-19 virus.” – Laetitia
“My worries have shifted. Initially, I was very concerned that I wouldn’t find a job after graduating because of the Covid triggered recession but I became more and more optimistic as time went on. I think I realised the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon and I had to just roll with it.” – Keya
“Initially, I was very worried that my returning home would put my family at risk of getting sick, particularly my father who has underlying respiratory issues. I was also worried for my friends and family overseas and whether they were staying safe. A silver lining that came from these intense worries is that I got into a routine to call or message them at least once a week, which is something I rarely did before COVID-19. Now that the UK is seeing an increase in cases, I’m worrying whether citizens will be as compliant to safety precautions when they are out in public spaces and on public transport. I live with a friend who is asthmatic and I commute every day to work … I have nightmares of bringing COVID back to my flat and getting her sick.” – Kyleigh
Q3: What have you learned from your time as a Research Assistant?
“I have developed several skills as a research assistant. I believe the most important one is the capacity to write a blog post. I had no previous experience with writing something intended to benefit others and spread important information in an accessible way. Furthermore, it has been an brilliant experience getting to apply the skills and knowledge I have developed during the course of my Psychology degree.” – Reina
“As a research assistant, I developed a more in-depth understanding of the process of conducting a study, which will significantly facilitate pursuing a doctorate program in psychology. It also allowed to work better in a group setting as well as enhancing my writing skills in both the academic setting (Research paper) and a more casual settings (Writing blog-posts).” – Laetitia
“The main skill I’ve learned is definitely how to write a blog post. Not only had I never written a blog post before, but I found it quite bewildering to write a piece that wasn’t going to be graded. I have grown to love the literary freedom that comes alongside this!” – Keya
“Being a research assistant for the study has only strengthened my passion for research and discussing psychological concepts with others. I have learned that writing for the general public is very different to how you write for a university assignment, and it was very enjoyable to conduct research and write blog posts on topics surrounding COVID I personally connected with (e.g. how playing Animal Crossing and technology has kept my spirits up when in lockdown). I was also responsible for creating the graphics for the study’s social media platforms. I was very happy to hear that my graphics were getting such positive feedback from students and academics alike, and how they were informative as well as pleasing to look at. I am excited to see if the study’s findings will inform the government on how to support students in the COVID era.” – Kyleigh
Q4: What’s in store for you this coming year?
“This year I will be completing my undergraduate degree as I am a third year student. As all my learning for first term (at least) has been made virtual, I will be living in Ghana with my family. I hope to finish my year in London with my peers and continue on to do a Master’s Degree.” – Reina
“I’m a student enrolled in the M.S. Child development program at the University College London. I’m currently writing up my thesis and I am aiming to get into a doctorate program later on.” – Laetitia
“I have just started a job working with deprived young people in Camden. My job is intense but incredibly rewarding and draws upon my two main interests, Psychology and Criminology, perfectly. I hope to go on to pursue a masters in Criminology and then a career in clinical psychology.” – Keya
“I am starting my MEd in Psychology and Education at the University of Cambridge. Alongside my studies, I’m working as a Special Education Needs (SEN) Teaching Assistant in a primary school in Wandsworth and private Applied Behavioural Analysis tutor for a family in North London. I will also be singing in the London Youth Chamber Choir (over Zoom until guidance tells us it’s safe to sing together in person!).” – Kyleigh
Q5: Do you have any advice for students going into/continuing university or going into work in the COVID-19 era?
“As I am only a third year undergraduate student, I am not sure I am in the best position to be dolling out advice. However, I would advise Freshers to take every opportunity available. Three (or four) years is not long and the opportunities universities offer (even virtually) are unbeatable.” – Reina
“One piece of advice I would personally give is to keep a critical mindset, ask lots of questions and read a lot while conducting research. And another thing would be to try connecting as much as possible with your peers; everyone has a different background which allows them to bring so much to the table through their experiences and culture, embrace individual differences.” – Laetitia
“Get involved with uni life as much as you can. London can be a daunting place to be a student but if you keep putting yourself out there you will eventually find your place. And if you don’t, that’s ok too! It’s ok to rethink things and change your mind about what you want to be doing.” – Keya
“This is a very challenging time we’re all experiencing. My advice would be to take it day by day and be kind to yourself. COVID has shown me there really is no point in stopping yourself from doing the things you are passionate about and for spending time with the people you love. COVID has made the world come to a standstill but once it starts moving again, be ready to make the most of the opportunities that come your way.” – Kyleigh
Although many things have changed fairly dramatically for all of us, some opportuities have also arisen as a result of this pandemic. We are grateful for the opportunities that have presented itself and hope you enjoyed our blog!
This post was co-written by Ms Laetitia Al Khoury (@LaetitiaAK), MsKetki “Keya” Prabhu (@kkprabhu), Ms Reina Kirpalani (@rkirpalani), and Ms Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh) – former and current students on the BSc Psychology with Education degree and MSc in Child Development at UCL. Minor edits were made by Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).
In contrast to the potential benefits that video games may instil during these difficult times, our Instagram poll found that:
13% of respondents are living alone;
44% of respondents are feeling more suspicious/hostile towards strangers during lockdown;
64% respondents feel lockdown has them feel less motivated;
Thus, during lockdown, video games may become an invaluable source of entertainment, a way to build and maintain our social connections, distraction and motivation amidst the stresses of living in the time of COVID-19. In particular, the social simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) is the No.1 trending game in Japan, the U.S, Korea, Spain and France and has been hailed as a “conveniently timed piece of whimsy” where players take on the role of a lone human on an island filled with “relentlessly cheerful creatures”. Players are tasked with building a thriving, island society by filling it with shops, bridges and other accommodations to attract other players. ACNH follows a real-time clock and calendar and the game changes from day-to-day, offering players daily rewards and special seasonal content. For the 2020 graduates, ACNH has even become a popular venue for virtual convocations and the subject of over 38 million tweets and many news articles about the game’s ability to provide comfort and social connection in these times of isolation and social distancing.
Dr. Romana Ramzan, a lecturer in Game Narrative at Glasgow Caledonian University suggests that the massive appeal behind video games during lockdown is:
They allow you to get absorbed into day-to-day activities without the real world consequences.
They can be played indefinitely, which is especially favoured these days as there is also no current end in sight for COVID-19.
Where we are powerless in the real world, video games and the virtual worlds they provide give players a level of calmness and total control over how the world progresses.
With regards to caring for our mental health in the time of COVID-19, video games may offer a sense of support and community when other means of support are lacking or are now harder to access. Mental health benefits of video games include:
Formation and maintenance of social connections
Improvement of mood
Sense of control and accomplishment
Reduction in stress and anxiety
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that post-COVID-19, research may increasingly find that video games can have positive effects, particularly on influencing pro-social behaviours and fostering social connectedness. Occasional or moderate playing of video games may in fact come to be recognised as a beneficial activity to take up. However, until then, further research on it’s health benefits will require more stringent research. While we gradually come out of lockdown, you may want to find out more about the kinds of games that are out there, and whether you’d want to start playing yourself. But don’t forget: Take regular breaks from the screen every now and then!
Meeting new people and catching up with old friends face-to-face is now harder or impossible. Research has shown that when relationships are at risk of decaying from lack of interaction, we will invest more time in communicating to reinforce our social connections. With an internet connection, we are able to safely maintain our existing connections and even form new ones virtually.
Despite the benefits, the emerging phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue” is a good example of how prolonged and intensive use of the internet and technologies every day in lockdown can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. To combat Zoom Fatigue, here are a few tips on how to stay socially connected with one another without getting overwhelmed.
Build-in breaks. If you have back-to-back virtual meetings, consider making them 25 or 50 minutes instead of 30 minutes or an hour. This will give you a little time in between to get up and prepare for the next meeting.
The pandemic has shifted our working and social lives to being “digital-only” for the time being. But remember, it’s important to take breaks from the technology when we need them to take care of our mental wellbeing. Technology is often portrayed as an influencer of negative social behaviours. However, there is a silver lining in recognising that in these challenging and uncertain times, technology has allowed us to carry on with our working lives, safely communicate with our loved ones, and to virtually maintain our social connections.