An observational study examined the week-by-week effects during COVID-19 lockdown measures on rates of anxiety and depression.
Around the world, many have become concerned with the potential effects of COVID-19 on mental health.
As mandated self-isolation requirements and drastic life changes associated with lockdown orders force people to deal with unprecedented issues, scientists have been increasingly alarmed of the impact the lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic might have on anxiety and depression rates.
While numerous studies suggest a connection between mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there have not been studies examining the changes week-by-week.
To study the potential relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health, scientists in England have designed an observational study using data about participants’ anxiety and depression symptoms. As reported in The Lancet Psychiatry, the study included 36,520 participants, each measured at least three times between March 1 and August 9, 2020.
The results indicated that, in the 20 weeks since the introduction of lockdown measures in England, anxiety and depression rates have steadily decreased when compared with measures taken in the first week.
The fastest decrease, according to the researchers, was seen during the strictest lockdown measures. According to the researchers, these results may be attributed to participants’ increased adjustment to the lockdown measures.
The researchers further indicate several risk factors associated with anxiety and depression during COVID-19 lockdown, including being female or younger, having lower educational attainment, lower income, or pre-existing mental health conditions, and living alone or with children.
For much of these risk factor categories, levels of depression and anxiety continued to reduce and were equal to the rest of the population. Nevertheless, differences were still evident at 20 weeks following the start of the lockdown.
While the sample included has not been selected randomly, which implies the results cannot be confidently generalized to the population, the study provides important data about the longitudinal changes in symptoms within the sample population.
Furthermore, while the study did not include all potential experiences, it is possible other symptoms of mental health deterioration exist but were not measured. Still, such data is important in understanding how the pandemic may influence people’s mental health.
Importantly, the study identified several groups that may be at a particular risk of anxiety and depression during COVID-19 lockdown, which may benefit from increased support before a lockdown is instituted.
Written by Maor Bernshtein
Fancourt, D., Steptoe, A., & Bu, F. (2020). Trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms during enforced isolation due to COVID-19 in England: a longitudinal observational study. The Lancet Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2215-0366(20)30482-x
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