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Social distancing worst COVID-19 restrictions for mental health, study finds

New research suggests that social distancing norms were the main reason for the decline in mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockdown measures and their effects have been hotly debated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown how our mental health has declined during the pandemic and has prompted experts and policy makers to call for action.

To explore the reasons for the decline, two new studies published in The Lancet Thursday (April 21) aim to assess the relationship between COVID-19 policy restrictions and mental health during the pandemic, and examine changes in mental health.

Both studies showed that stringent policy measures aimed at controlling the epidemic were associated with poorer mental health.

They collected data on mental health through Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Behavior Tracker with two different measures of mental health: psychological distress and life assessment.

Using a stringent index to evaluate the rigor of countries’ response to the pandemic, the authors ranked the countries involved as elimination strategies (Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea) and mitigation strategies (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany). , Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK).

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This means that the latter opted to reduce the effects of COVID-19 rather than eliminate community transmission.

In countries with a mitigation strategy of intermittent lockdowns, workplace and school closures, social distancing, wearing face masks and canceling public gatherings, researchers found low life assessments.

Social distancing measures such as fewer gatherings and greater requirements to stay at home were associated with higher psychological distress.

On the other hand, policies such as closing schools and workplaces were not associated with a decline in mental health.

Co-author Raphael Goldszmidt said, “Mitigation strategies may be linked at least partly to worse mental health outcomes because prevention measures such as prolonged lockdowns and physical distancing can disrupt social interactions.”

“Strategies that aim to eliminate transmission while promoting early actions and targeted rigor can reduce deaths while protecting people’s mental health in the process,” he said.

not everyone is affected in the same way

As the WHO warned earlier, the mental health effects of the lockdown affected different social groups in different ways. They highlighted that younger individuals, women and those with pre-existing physical health conditions were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.

The second Lancet study conducted with Australian participants also concluded that women were more affected by the lockdown than men. People between the ages of 20 and 29 were most affected.

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“While the effects of the lockdown on overall population mental health were small, there were substantial and clinically relevant effects for some groups. Women, especially women living in couple families with dependent children, were hurt the most and were more likely to see a decline in their mental health than men of any age group,” said second study co-author Mark Wooden, said the prof. University of Melbourne.

“This gender effect may be due to the additional workload associated with working from home, as well as caring for and educating one’s children, exacerbating already existing inequalities in the home and caregiving responsibilities,” he said. .

Wooden’s final point was also debated during a special interparliamentary committee meeting in the context of Women’s Day in early March, as reported by EURACTIV.

“On average, women in the EU are working 36 hours of unpaid work care work each week during the pandemic, which is about 2000 hours per year. (…) So that means women have been working literally double shifts since the COVID crisis began,” said Karlion Scheele, director of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), at a committee meeting in March.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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