People’s general mental health and anxiety hardly deteriorated at all during the pandemic, surprising new research has suggested.
During and since the pandemic, various surveys and studies have suggested that the financial, social, economic and health stresses of living through the pandemic helped to fuel an accompanying mental health “tsunami”.
This was compounded by the fact access to NHS mental health services became much more stretched and restricted, with this now all being further exacerbated by the stresses and strains of the cost-of-living crisis.
However, a study in the BMJ has suggested this narrative may not in fact be right. The review, led by academics from a number of Canadian universities, analysed 137 studies, mostly from high-income European and Asian countries.
It concluded depression did become a little worse overall, especially among women, older people, university students and those belonging to sexual or gender minorities.
Women, in particular, are over-represented in healthcare job and so were often on the frontline of the pandemic. They were more likely to be earning less, more likely to be juggling childcare responsibilities and, potentially, more likely to be experiencing abuse.
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“The small overall change in mental health symptoms suggests that many women have been resilient but that among some an important worsening of symptoms occurred,” the researchers argued.
“Indeed, although most of our analyses found no changes or minimal to small negative changes in mental health, they do suggest that the pandemic negatively influenced the mental health of some people, which is consistent with, for example, reports of increased visits for mental health and substance misuse,” they said.
However, they also concluded: “The patterns of findings from our review, along with evidence on mental health disorders and suicide, converge to suggest that the effects of Covid-19 on mental health are more nuanced than the ‘tsunami’ descriptor or other similar terms used by some investigators and in many media articles.”
Nevertheless, the research does accept that the pandemic left long-term challenges and ramifications for societies, especially around physical health, mental health and the provision of health services.
As the researchers said: “The pandemic has affected the lives of many people, and some are now experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time. Governments should continue to ensure that mental health supports are available and respond to population needs.”