The dark side of the pandemic: Coronavirus and mental health

Posted Nov 9, 2020 by Tim Sandle
A hidden side to the coronavirus pandemic is the impact on mental health. This is not only for those unfortunate to contract the virus but also as a consequence of the preventative measures that need to be taken.
Sander van der Wel (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In recent week three major studies have been published looking at the impact of the coronavirus and the restrictions that keeping safe from infection entail. The effect on mental health is a topic that has been overlooked by much of the media; however, new research from three different universities provides examples of the more complex issues stemming from the societal disruption.
Anxiety and depression for college students
Levels of stress have been rising among college students, especially with those who went away to university for the first time in September 2020. Due to periodic lockdown requirements, some students have been holed in tiny one-room flats.
Researchers from Dartmouth College (U.K.) found students to be more anxious, depressed and sedentary during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 compared with previous students surveyed at the start of academic terms. The study used a mobile sensing approach. This is a reference to the research methodology where a combination of smartphone sensing and digital questionnaires were used, with responses drawn from over 200 students.
The research has been published in Journal of Medical Internet Research, and the paper is titled "Mental Health and Behavior of College Students During the Early Phases of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Longitudinal Smartphone and Ecological Momentary Assessment Study."
Social distancing is increasing loneliness in older adults
Moving to the other end of the age spectrum, a study from Scotland has looked at the effect of one of the important measures for avoiding disease transmission: keeping away from other people and maintaining a distance of two metres when out and about. Many older people who are single struggle with feeling of loneliness during 'normal' times; the coronavirus requirements have served to exacerbate these feelings.
Researchers from the University of Stirling have shown a connection between worsening of wellbeing and health mong those aged 60 and older and the necessity to maintain at a physical distance from others. This was based on data collected in relation to 1,429 survey participants, With the study cohort, 84 percent were aged 60 or over and typically had a social network of five people.
Prior to the 2020 pandemic, the study participants tended to socialise five days per week, for more than 6.6 hours per week. Under the coronavirus measures, the social network has shrunk and the time spent in the company of others has tailed away, leading to a rise of mental issues among elderly people. The data has been shared with the Scottish government.
Psychological toll from New Zealand COVID-19 lockdown
Moving away from the British Isles, a study from New Zealand has looked into the effect of enforced lockdown upon the psychological wellbeing of individuals.
The data will give health professionals something to consider: 30 per cent of those surveyed reported moderate to severe psychological distress and 16 per cent had moderate to high levels of anxiety. Almost 40 per cent said their level of well-being was low. These levels are far higher compared with non-pandemic years.
The findings have been reported to the journal PLoS One, in a paper called "Psychological distress, anxiety, family violence, suicidality, and wellbeing in New Zealand during the COVID-19 lockdown: A cross-sectional study."