simon williams

My Story

"Until the first few months of 2020, I hadn't thought much about pandemics since my postgraduate years, when I had conducted a small study and written a paper on the UK's policy response to pandemic flu. It quickly became clear, however, that COVID-19 posed the greatest threat to public health since the pandemic flu over a century ago. It remains the most significant public health issue of our time."

"As a sociologist, I was used to studying the ways in which people interact, the ways in which social groups, identities and communities are formed and shaped through social interaction. Humans are, after all, "social animals", as Aristotle's famous quote goes. "Social distancing", a term unfamiliar to many of us (but one which we are now all-too-familiar with), seemed to me to be something quite unnatural. Although an important policy response to flattening the COVID-19 curve, I felt as though the social distancing and social isolation that ensued as part of the UK's lockdown would have a number of social and psychological impacts. To this end, I began a small qualitative study, using online focus groups (via Zoom - a platform many of us are also now all-too-familiar with!), in order to explore how social distancing and social isolation was affecting people across the UK."

"Early findings suggested that lockdown had a range of impacts, many of which centred around the theme of "loss"; the loss of in-person social interaction was leading to associated losses of motivation and even self-worth. In particular, we found that those most socially and economically vulnerable - people in low-paid and flexible or insecure occupations - were particularly badly affected by lockdown."

"This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr Kimberly Dienes and Professor Christopher Armitage of Manchester University's Centre for Health Psychology, and Dr Tova Tampe, an independent consultant at the World Health Organisation, we designed a larger, interdisciplinary study to follow UK public attitudes to, and experiences of COVID-19 policy over time. Because of the time-sensitive nature of COVID-19 research we published our work as reports, and follow up publications are forthcoming in academic journals. Our research has been covered by a number of media outlets, including the BBC. As such, our report published in mid-April was one of the early research reports providing in-depth evidence of the mental health impacts of lockdown."

"This research has been funded in part by Swansea University's 'Greatest Need Fund'. We are immensely grateful to the Greatest Need Fund and the Swansea University alumni who contribute to this funding. It has allowed us to commit to following our participants for 12 months. The social and psychological impacts of COVID-19 and its associated policies have not ended as lockdown has ended. We anticipate that the toll is taken by social distancing and isolation, and the stress and anxiety it has caused, will for many people, remain for some time, perhaps even after a vaccine has been discovered and the pandemic has subsided. We hope our findings will be of use to policymakers and other key stakeholders; there is a crucial need to implement mental health support services for those most affected by the pandemic.