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Mental Health and COVID-19

A recent study looked at the mental toll of living with COVID-19 in Australia, including employment and social impacts of the disease.


We’re nearly 11 months into the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic and things in many ways have not gotten easier, but rather more difficult. From the burden on frontline essential workers, to the stress of an election during this pandemic, many are just exhausted.

Perhaps this is one piece that isn’t taught in pandemic preparedness–the mental toll of living in it. As many of us move to approach this pandemic and disease from a sustainable viewpoint, mental health has increasingly been a topic of conversation. What though, is the effect of this pandemic on mental health?

A new study from a team of Australian researchers worked to identify and understand the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing of Australian adults. While many are still rushing to response and putting out COVID-19 spikes, there has been little analysis into the impact of this biological event on mental health and wellbeing. This gap is one that requires critical attention though.

As the authors noted, “The study was the first to survey a representative sample from the Australian population at the early acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depression, anxiety, and psychological wellbeing were measured with well-validated scales (PHQ-9, GAD-7, WHO-5). Using linear regression, we tested for associations between mental health and exposure to COVID-19, impacts of COVID-19 on work and social functioning, and socio-demographic factors. Depression and anxiety symptoms were substantively elevated relative to usual population data, including for individuals with no existing mental health diagnosis. Exposure to COVID-19 had minimal association with mental health outcomes.”

For Australians, the COVID-19 pandemic fell just after devastating brushfires, which added another blow to the wellbeing of their public. The research team worked to identify a representative group of adults to understand the effects of COVID-19.

Examining 1296 people from the first wave (March 28-31, 2020), they worked to identify depression and anxiety over 2 weeks. Moreover, the link to COVID-19 exposure, especially since it would require quarantine and likely fear or concern for one’s safety, was a critical aspect to this analysis.

The researchers also studied the work and social impacts of the disease, inquiring about loss of employment, working from home, financial stress, and overall work impact from the pandemic. Lastly, the research team included background factors, such as age, years of education, gender, living alone, living with children, existing health/neurological/psychological conditions, and even recent exposure to the brush fires.

The authors stated that their “initial univariate tests revealed that higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, and lower psychological wellbeing (WHO-5), were all associated with job loss and financial distress, and overall work and social impairment due to COVID-19.”

Interestingly, being required to work from home did not appear to have any associated mental health impacts. The regression analysis didn’t find a significant association between COVID-19 exposure and depression or anxiety, but these mental health outcomes were increased in those who had experienced other adverse events, such as exposure to the brushfires.

Overall, this study sheds light on not only the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but ultimately the various other life events we are all experiencing—natural disasters, etc. COVID-19 is not the only thing impacting our lives (although often it feels entirely consuming), meaning that we must truly invest in mental health support now more than ever.