‘It all crumbled’: pop stars on mental health in the age of Covid

While in lockdown pop star Arlo Parks started a new routine to help de-stress: working out with her mum and dad.

Three times a week the family would exercise in their west London home together. “We’d do boxing, circuits and burpees – all of that,” says Parks. “If there’s something on my mind and I workout for an hour, it allows my mind to clear a little bit.”

Parks, who is an ambassador for the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably and has written songs about the impact of depression, is one of thousands of young Britons who have had to adapt to the extra pressures that the Covid-19 crisis has created.

This week, analysis of official data by the Guardian found that the number of adults in Britain with depression has doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic, with younger adults, women, key workers and disabled people most likely to be affected.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of 3,500 participants found nearly one in five (19.2%) respondents experienced depression in June this year – almost double the number with symptoms in the nine months to March.

While people of all ages were more likely to have experienced depression, the biggest proportional increase was among young people. Between July 2019 and March 2020, 11% of those aged 16 to 39 reported depression, with the figure rising to 31% in June.

Women were more likely than men to have experienced depression during the pandemic, with 23.3% reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms, compared with one in eight before the coronavirus outbreak.

Olly Alexander, the actor and lead singer of pop group Years & Years who spoke about his own mental health journey with the Guardian in 2016, said the sudden career pause forced by lockdown was a shock to the system. “I’m really used to working all the time and distracting myself and it all just kind of crumbled and fell on top of me a little bit,” he said.

Olly Alexander: ‘It all just kind of crumbled and fell on top of me a little bit.’ Photograph: Debbie Hickey/Getty Images

Alexander said he has developed a list of activities – both physical and mental – that he tries to do everyday. He jogs, takes anti-depressants, speaks to a therapist via Zoom once a week, maintains his houseplants and ensures he has three meals.

He said: “If you can build a routine, even if I don’t do all of them everyday, I can start with one simple thing and then if I’ve been struggling I can rebuild to a place where I’m feeling just more like myself again.”

Both Alexander and Parks recommend journalling as a way to manage mental health, with Alexander saying it helps him to “articulate how you feel, privately to yourself”. Parks says she writes before bed as it allows her to “check in on herself” and switch off before sleep. “I often struggle with sleep and stuff just from thinking about things a lot,” she said. “So doing that kind of allows me to reflect and like kind of unload the thoughts so they’re not just…

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