How has physical distancing impacted on health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic? A Scottish longitudinal qualitative study

Kotzur, M. , O'Connor, R. C. and Robb, K. A. (2022) How has physical distancing impacted on health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic? A Scottish longitudinal qualitative study. BMJ Open, 12(5), e054506. (doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-054506) (PMID:35534078) (PMCID:PMC9086282)

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Objectives: This study provides an in-depth understanding of the impact of physical distancing restrictions and other quarantining measures during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical and mental health and well-being. Design: Longitudinal qualitative research using semistructured interviews at two time points (21 May to 10 June 2020 when the first restrictions were eased, and 2 to 26 August 2020 when many restrictions had been eased, but physical distancing measures remained) and framework analysis. Setting: Interviews by telephone or video call in Scotland. Participants: Thirty participants: 16 women, 93% reporting white ethnicity, 18+ years, 47% from deprived areas, 47% reported mental and/or physical health conditions. Results: Four main themes described the impact of physical distancing restrictions on (1) health behaviours; (2) healthcare access; (3) physical health; and (4) mental health. Changes in impact over the two time points were compared. For example, health behaviours in May/June, such as reduced physical activity and increased calorie intake, appeared to improve by August. From May/June to August, an increasing number of participants expressed dissatisfaction with healthcare they received. Participants with existing physical health conditions reported continued negative impact of restrictions on their physical health. All participants reported some negative mental health impact, mostly anxiety. An increasing number reported mental health improvements in August, with those with mental health conditions or under 30 years reporting improvement most frequently. Conclusions: In line with previous research, our participants felt able to return to prepandemic health habits. Our findings corroborate evidence of reduced preventive healthcare use and help-seeking behaviours. People with existing health conditions appear to be most vulnerable to negative mental and physical health impacts of physical distancing. These negative impacts and periods of unhealthy behaviours have potential long-term consequences, especially among already underserved groups. We recommend public health and policy strategies to mitigate long-term impacts of physical distancing.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by the Chief Scientist Office (Rapid Research In COVID-19 Programme), reference: COV/GLA/Portfolio.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:O'Connor, Professor Rory and Robb, Professor Katie and Kotzur, Dr Marie
Authors: Kotzur, M., O'Connor, R. C., and Robb, K. A.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:BMJ Open
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN (Online):2044-6055
Published Online:09 May 2022
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in BMJ Open 12(5): e054506
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
311300CSO covid 19 portfolioIain McInnesOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)COV/GLA/PortfolioIII - Immunology