Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic Scotland experienced a national lockdown (March-May 2020) followed by a period of physical distancing restrictions. While these measures reduced coronavirus transmission rates, there is concern that physical distancing and other quarantining measures will adversely affect health and wellbeing. We aimed to understand the nature of the impact of such measures on people in Scotland over the first six months of physical distancing. Methods: We purposively sampled adults (aged 18+, with and without existing mental or physical conditions) who had completed a health and wellbeing questionnaire to be invited to two qualitative interviews, 8 weeks apart. Semi-structured interviews were conducted remotely and covered experiences of adhering to physical distancing restrictions and other protective behaviours, and changes in physical and mental health and health behaviours. Transcripts were analysed longitudinally using Framework Analysis. Results: We interviewed 30 respondents (16 women) in May/June 2020 and again in August 2020. Sixteen respondents had an existing physical or mental health condition. Respondents’ experiences were summarised by three key themes: i) changes to health behaviours—some described weight gain, but others discussed increased exercise, healthy eating, and reduced alcohol intake; ii) changes to wellbeing—increased anxiety, especially among younger respondents, due to the pandemic itself, but also due to consequences of physical distancing, e.g. general uncertainty, economic concerns; iii) access to health care—respondents were willing to use health services, but while they were able to access primary care, some with existing health conditions reported cancelled or delayed appointments. Conclusions and implications Our results provide in-depth understanding of how physical distancing both promotes and hinders healthy behaviours. Our findings show that physical distancing impacts the mental health of young people who may experience increased anxiety. Although primary care appears to be accessible, physical distancing restrictions may impede access to specialist health care.


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Kotzur, M., O'Connor, R. & Robb, K. 2021, 'Health and Wellbeing Implications of Physical Distancing Restrictions in Scotland: a Qualitative Study', UK Society for Behavioural Medicine Annual Scientific Meeting 2021, 13-14 Jan 2021. http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/237703/

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Last updated: 08 September 2022
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