Covid’s effect on mental health not as great as first thought, study suggests | Mental health
Covid-19 may not have taken as much of a toll on most people’s mental health as previous research has suggested, a new study suggests.
The pandemic resulted in “minimal” changes in mental health symptoms among the general population, according to a review of 137 studies from around the world, led by researchers at McGill University in Canada, and published in the British Medical Journal.
Brett Thombs, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University and senior author, said some of the public narratives about the mental health impacts of Covid-19 were based on “poor quality studies and anecdotes” which became “self-fulfilling prophecies”. , adding that “more rigorous science” was needed.
However, some experts disputed this, warning that such readings could obscure the impact on individual groups such as children, women and people with low incomes or pre-existing mental health problems. They also said other powerful studies had reached different conclusions.
“Mental health in Covid-19 is much more nuanced than people have realised.
“Claims that most people’s mental health has deteriorated significantly during the pandemic have been based largely on individual studies that are ‘snapshots’ of a particular situation, in a particular place, at a particular time. They usually do not involve any long-term comparison with what went before or came after.”
Researchers at McGill said their findings were consistent with the largest study on suicide during the pandemic — which found no increase — and applied to most groups, including different ages, sexes, genders and whether people had pre-existing conditions. existing. Three-quarters of the research focused on adults, mostly from middle- and high-income countries.
However, they acknowledged that women had experienced worsening anxiety, depression or general mental health symptoms during the pandemic, perhaps due to juggling more family responsibilities, or more work in health or social care, or, in some cases, due to domestic abuse.
The researchers further noted that depressive symptoms worsened by “minimal to small amounts” for older adults, college students, people who self-identified as belonging to a sexual or gender minority group, and parents.
The team concluded that governments and health agencies need to produce better quality and more timely mental health data to better target resources, and that governments should continue to adequately fund services, especially for groups most affected by the pandemic.
Other studies have suggested that the impact of the pandemic on mental health has been much more severe. In 2021, researchers at the University of Queensland determined that anxiety and depression worldwide increased dramatically in 2020, while in April 2021 the Royal College of Psychiatrists noted a sharp increase in ill mental health, and in February 2022 leaders of The NHS have warned of a “Second Pandemic” of depression, anxiety, psychosis and eating disorders.
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Commenting on the McGill study, Gemma Knowles, from the Center for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, said the findings echoed other research, including her own, showing that some people’s mental health improved and others worsened during the pandemic, which could mean no overall growth.
She added that the study, which takes a broad view and includes limited analyzes disaggregated by subgroups, “risks obscuring important effects between the most affected and disadvantaged groups and, thereby, obscuring the possible widening of inequalities in mental distress that has occurred due to the pandemic”.
Roman Raczka, chair of the British Psychological Society’s clinical psychology division, agreed: “We don’t yet have the full picture and further studies are needed into the impact of the pandemic on groups experiencing long-standing social and health inequalities. We know that overburdened and underfunded mental health services have been unable to meet increasing demand in recent years. It is vital that the government adequately funds services to provide the support that is needed.”
But Prof Peter Tyrer, emeritus professor of community psychiatry, Imperial College London, stressed that McGill’s work was “of good quality and reflects a lot of what we now know”.
He agreed with the researchers’ conclusion that the pandemic had a similarly positive effect on resilience to wars because “social cohesion, despite the obstacles of lockdown and social distancing, is enhanced when there is a common enemy.”