New research shows how COVID-19 restrictions affect mental health
New research shows how COVID-19 restrictions affect mental health

New research shows how COVID-19 restrictions affect mental health

New research shows how stricter COVID-19 mitigation rules may have led to a collective deterioration of mental health.

A team of investigators found that mental health problems grew more for women and women living in households with dependent children during the shutdowns compared to men of all ages.

Limitations

At the national level, countries that focused on eliminating the societal spread of the virus had fewer deaths and the same or better mental health trends during the pandemic than countries that focused on controlling the virus.

The investigators also found that containment measures were not exactly homogeneous, with some countries adopting more ambitious mitigation strategies compared to others, which focused on slowing transmission through a combination of intermittent shutdowns, workplace, business and school closures, social distancing, face masks and cancellations of public assemblies and transportation.

For example, both South Korea and Japan used early action, including restricting international travel and test and contact tracking programs. This resulted in fewer infections paving the way for more gentle domestic containment strategies.

On the other hand, countries such as France and the UK imposed less insurmountable international travel restrictions and focused on controlling the virus compared to eliminating COVID-19 through strict domestic policy measures, including physical distancing and orders to stay at home.

“The state’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been widely discussed,” said Lara Aknin, BA, MA, PhD, Simon Fraser University. “At first glance, it may seem that eliminator countries are implementing much tougher strategies than other countries due to their widely reported international travel bans.

“But in reality, people within those borders enjoyed more freedom and less restrictive domestic containment measures in general than citizens of restrictive countries.”

The collision

In this study, investigators assessed how the variation of policy constraints affected mental health, by combining daily policy stringent data with mental health data from samples in 15 countries.

The countries were grouped as either eliminators such as Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea or milder as Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

There was an overall stronger correlation between strict containment policies and lower life evaluation in the mitigation countries compared to the eliminator countries.

The most detrimental policies for the mental health of citizens were restrictions on assemblies and house orders, leading to loss of social attachment, greater psychological distress, and lower life evaluations.

However, schools, workplaces, public events, and transportation closures and restrictions on domestic travel were not associated with declining mental health, and the number of consecutive days during high or low levels of pandemic restrictions had no effect on mental health outcomes.

Stricter policies were associated with lower opinions on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

As the pandemic subsided, lower deaths were likely to result in a decrease in the negative correlation between the restrictions and future mental health.

Women’s mental health during lockdown

In another study, investigators found that mental health impacts are not felt equally across different demographic groups. Using data from 20,000 people in Australia, investigators found that the lockdown had a significant, but relatively small, negative mental health effect.

The researchers found that women were more likely to suffer from impaired mental health than men, especially those between the ages of 20-29. However, there were no significant effects for adolescents of either sex or for men between 20-29 years of age.

Men older than 55 years experienced an improvement in mental health during lockdown.

“While the effects of lockdowns on the mental health of the overall population were small, there were significant and clinically relevant impacts for some groups,” said study author Prof Mark Wooden of the University of Melbourne. “Women, especially those living in couple families with dependent children, have been hardest hit and were more likely than men in any age group to see a decline in their mental health.

“This gendered effect may be due to the extra workload associated with working from home while caring for and educating their children at the same time, increasing pre-existing inequalities in household and care responsibilities.”

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