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A couple wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic © Photo by cheng feng on Unsplash.

Dr Sarah Bauermeister, Senior Data and Science Manager at DPUK, will co-lead the project with colleagues from Harvard University and the University of São Paulo.

Funded by the International HundredK+ Cohorts Consortium (IHCC), the project has three main aims:

  • To catalogue and curate existing relevant cohort data
  • To address some of the key questions surrounding mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic (for example, how the pandemic is affecting rates of mental health symptoms and disorders over time)
  • To characterise changes in people’s cognitive and neuropsychological function as a result of the pandemic

Dr Bauermeister, who is a member of the IHCC mental health working group, said: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing an unprecedented set of challenges that may impact the mental health of populations around the world. While an estimated 35 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus, many now fear the emergence of a secondary pandemic of mental distress and illness.’

The researchers highlight the indirect effects of the virus: for example, the stress and trauma on first responders and healthcare professionals; suffering and bereavement among families of victims; the disruption to social contact as a result of physical distancing measures; economic and social impacts such as unemployment and housing insecurity; reduced access to healthcare for those with existing mental health disorders.

Dr Bauermeister added: ‘The unprecedented scale and scope of the pandemic and its fallout mean that the evidence base for optimal prevention and treatment strategies is limited. All of this is occurring against a backdrop of already-rising rates of psychiatric illness and suicide in many countries. And in a recent survey of 128 UK care homes, 80% of those with dementia are showing an acceleration of decline.

‘The IHCC cohort data provides a unique platform for addressing important questions and producing key insights into the adverse mental health outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic – including identifying those most at risk and helping inform policy and treatment strategies, now and in the future.’

The project has been funded initially for a pilot period of 12 months. As well as the IHCC’s international group of cohorts, the project will make use of cohorts available via the DPUK Data Portal, such as UK Biobank, Generation Scotland and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

IHCC’s mission is to create a global network for translational research that utilises large cohorts to enhance the understanding of the biological and genetic basis of disease and improve clinical care and population health. Find out more by visiting the IHCC website.