Stricter Covid-19 Measures Linked With Negative Mental Health Finds Lancet Study

Mental health impacts linked with lockdowns were shoddier for women and women living in households with dependent children when compared to men of all ages.

Experts suggest that if left untreated for over a year, postpartum depression can turn into other mental health related issues like paranoia and panic anxiety disorder.

According to two new studies published in The Lancet Public Health journal, it has been found the strict pandemic policy measures implemented in some countries that tried to control rather than eradicate coronavirus are linked to a slightly worsening of the mental health of people.

Mental health impacts linked with lockdowns were shoddier for women and women living in households with dependent children when compared to men of all ages. At the national level, countries that meant to eradicate community transmission of coronavirus within their borders (eliminators) experienced lesser deaths and equal or better mental health trends during the pandemic than countries that intended to control, rather than remove, transmission (mitigators).

While the first study indicates that the type and timing of pandemic restriction plays a factor in determining mental health impacts, the second study suggests that these are felt disproportionately by different groups. Together, the findings strengthen the notion that stricter policy measures may lead to adverse mental health outcomes and those effective policies to contain the pandemic must go hand in hand with strategies and resources to address mental health for the general population and those most at risk.

Dr Vikram Patel, Pershing Square Professor of Global Health, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School told The Indian Express said, “This study adds to the mounting evidence that extreme containment policies, in particular lock-downs which close down schools and entire sectors of the economy, often enforced with a harsh law and order approach, is more damaging to mental health than the virus itself and should be a reminder to policymakers than such policies should be designed, and implemented, with sensitivity to their impact on the population.”

The first study combined daily policy stringency data with mental health data collected fortnightly from samples of 15 countries to assess how variation in Covid-19 policy restrictions affects mental health. Countries were classified as either eliminator (Australia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea) or mitigators (based on their response to Covid-19 from April 2020 to June 2021). (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK). When compared to eliminator countries, there was a stronger link between severe containment policies and lower life evaluation in mitigator countries.

Individual policies that lead to a loss of social connection and are primarily implemented in mitigator countries (e.g., gathering restrictions and stay-at-home requirements) were associated with greater psychological distress and lower life evaluations. Policies such as school, workplace, public event, and public transportation closures, as well as domestic travel restrictions, on the other hand, were not linked to mental health.

Study author Dr Rafael Goldszmidt, says, “Our research demonstrates that in addition to the intensity of the pandemic itself, the type of the pandemic response pursued makes a difference to people’s mental health. Mitigation strategies may be associated with worse mental health outcomes at least in part because containment measures such as long periods of lockdowns and physical distancing can impede social connections. Strategies that aim to eliminate transmission while promoting early actions and targeted stringency can reduce deaths while also protecting people’s mental health in the process.” At the same time, governments need to provide clear and consistent information about policy measures to increase residents’ confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic, he added.

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