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The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health

CAPE TOWN – As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end, the world looks to recover from the Coronavirus outbreak which has instilled distress and uncertainty in many lives, economies and countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have major consequences on the mental health of the general public due to lockdown with a range of possible effects caused by boredom, social isolation, stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, negative mood, depression, suicidal or addictive behaviours, and domestic violence and the effects may extend beyond the pandemic according to the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Life Course Research (LIVES) .

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a Swiss Corona Stress Study that was released to analyse how the Swiss population was adapting to the pandemic and asses stress levels and depressive symptoms affected by national lockdown in efforts to determine factors and street behaviours to potentially identify who is most at risk.

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The study took place online with over 10 000 participants living in Switzerland three weeks after their national lockdown during the first wave, with another survey closer to their second wave of Covid-19 infections during the easing lockdown phases.

“24% of the participants reported no change in stress levels, but 50% declared an increase in stress levels during lockdown as compared to the time before the COVID-19 crisis. Several sources contributed to people feeling more stressed during the lockdown, they included the burden related to changes at work or school, problems with childcare or the burden of not being able to spend more time with others,” it said in the publication.

The researchers found severe depressive symptoms increases from 3 percent to 9 percent during lockdown, with 20 percent did not complain about these symptoms prior to the pandemic with daily suicidal thoughts in individuals raised from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent during lockdown.

The second wave saw decreasing levels of anxiety but stress levels and symptoms of depression remained similar but researchers found the easing of lockdown had a wide range of effects on varying individuals but discovered being individuals that are older, male and with no prior psychiatric conditions were less likely to develop depressive symptoms.

The organisation believes that to alleviate the stress associated with Covid-19 pandemic it is crucial to provide supportive measures to the public and specific support programmes for those most vulnerable like the elderly and healthcare workers and make transparent information easily accessible and regular with the LIVES acknowledging that media communication could contribute to anxiety and online communication technologies such as social media contribute to the widespread of misinformation and contradictory information.

“In order to assess the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis and to develop appropriate interventions, evidence on these outcomes among the general population and vulnerable groups needs to be gained,” the authors wrote in the publication. “It is notably important to monitor the dynamic of psychological consequences, with research following individuals over the successive stages of the crisis, ideally using multiple methods bringing converging evidence with self-reported, behavioural, and physiological measures.”

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