Background: Face masks or coverings are effective at reducing airborne infection rates, yet pandemic mitigation measures, including wearing face coverings, have been suggested to contribute to reductions in quality of life and poorer mental health. Complaints of inconvenience, discomfort, and other issues have been repeatedly and loudly voiced by critics, and adherence in many nations is not strong enough to suppress viral spread. We wished to see whether wearing face coverings is associated with mental health and wellbeing.

Methods: We analysed survey 1 and 2 of the CovidLife study, a sample of more than 18,000 individuals living in the UK. The study asked a variety of questions about participants’ psychological, economic, and social lives while living under the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020. We measured individuals’ adherence to following guidance on wearing face coverings, as well as several mental health outcomes: depression, anxiety, wellbeing, life satisfaction, and loneliness.

Results: We found no association between lower adherence to face covering guidelines and poorer mental health. The opposite appears to be true. Even after controlling for behavioural, social, and psychological confounds, including measures of pre-pandemic mental health, individuals who wore face coverings “most of the time” or “always” had better mental health and wellbeing than those who did not. Individuals who wore masks only “some of the time” or “never” tended to be male, lower income, and already had COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms.

Conclusions: These results suggest that wearing face coverings more often does not negatively impact mental health. Wearing a face covering more often is actually linked to better mental health and wellbeing. Implications are discussed and we highlight the potential pathways for addressing a lack of face covering that this study reveals.


This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

Altschul, D., Fawns-Ritchie, C., Kwong, A., Hartley, L., Nangle, C., Edwards, R., Dawson, R., Levein, C., Campbell, A., Flaig, R., McIntosh, A., Deary, I., Marioni, R., Hayward, C., Sudlow, C., Douglas, E., Bell, D. & Porteous, D. 2021, 'Face covering adherence is positively associated with better mental health and wellbeing: A longitudinal analysis of the CovidLife surveys [version 1; peer review: 1 approved, 1 approved with reservations]', Wellcome Open Research, 6, article no: 62. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16643.1

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Last updated: 03 November 2022
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