Almost a third of the general public screened positive for depressive symptoms and anxiety in the early part of the pandemic, according to new research.
The ongoing study also found that women, young people, those whose employment status changed, moderate to heavy drinkers and those with health conditions had been most likely to feel depressed or anxious when the research was conducted.
The cross-sectional telephone surveys captured the views of around 1,000 people over a two-week period in May/June last year, and then of a different 1,000 people in July and then again in September.
The most recent round of the survey contacted a different group of 1,000 people at the end of April 2021.
The research is funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) and led conducted by a team led by Dr Isabela Troya of University College Cork.
Dr Troya said that in addition to the proportion of those interviewed last May, June and July who screened for depression and anxiety, 4% screened for self-harming behaviours, consistent with other studies.
She said those most vulnerable to self-harm were those aged between 18 and 29, and those in the two lowest income categories.
More data from the study, entitled Mental Health and wellbeing following an initial period of Covid-19 restrictions, will be made available in the coming months by Dr Troya said it was possible that there could be an aftershock of mental distress among some of the public, even as the vaccination programme ramps up and restrictions are eased.
"For longer-term effects, people need to be mindful, particularly about those vulnerable groups," she said.
Dr Troya said it was important to be wary of the potential impact in the longer-term on people who had a pre-existing mental health condition before the onset of the pandemic, as they were not able to access services in the same way for much of the past year, but also the general public, referring to mental distress and "collective trauma".
"There is always more that can be done with interventions, with money being allocated to mental health services and outreach," she said. "During Covid and after Covid it is something that should be highlighted."
Initial data from the earlier part of the pandemic, as captured by the National Suicide Research Foundation and the NSRF's Self-Harm Observatory found no significant increases in either suicide or self-harming incidents up to the end of October last year.
In a recent article written for the, Dr Mary Joyce, Professor Ella Arensman and Dr Eve Griffin said: "The Covid-19 pandemic is constantly evolving so it is possible that patterns may change over time. We know that many of the risk factors associated with suicide and self-harm continue to be heightened by the pandemic, of which outcomes remain unclear. Risk factors include social isolation, loneliness, alcohol and drug misuse, domestic violence, sudden bereavement, job loss and economic uncertainty. The economic consequences are of particular concern given existing evidence for increases in suicidal behaviour during economic recessionary times."