New research out of Australia published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research indicates that individuals living during the coronavirus pandemic had significantly worse mental health outcomes than their peers measured before the pandemic.
The study used an online mental health-measurement platform to compare the mental health of people before and during the pandemic. Researchers also looked at the feasibility of using a tool like this for future studies.
"Although further research is needed, our findings support the serious mental health implications of the pandemic and highlight the utility of internet-based data collection tools in providing evidence to innovate and strengthen practice and policy during and after the pandemic,” researchers wrote in the report.
Researchers collected data on participants’ levels of depression, stress, anxiety, well-being, life satisfaction and resilience.
The participants were divided into three cohorts: those who registered during the pandemic (the COVID-19 group), those who generally registered for SAHMRI services (the general group) and those who were seeking help (the help-seeking group). Participants measured during COVID-19 demonstrate significantly worse outcomes on all mental health measures compared to those measured before.
The study also examined the proportion of participants that displayed mental health problems, indicated by “problematic scores on at least one of the outcomes.” They found that 79% of participants measured during the pandemic reported problematic mental health outcomes, compared to 52% in the general group and 58% in the help-seeking group.
HOW IT WAS DONE
Participants were adults who engaged with services offered by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) Wellbeing and Resilience Centre, based in Adelaide.
The COVID-19 group consisted of 673 participants, while the control cohorts consisted of 1,264 participants and 340 participants from the general group and the help-seeking group, respectively.
There were more women, unemployed people, and people who were in school, and the average age was higher in the COVID-19 group, compared to both of the control groups.
Researchers used the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 Items, the Mental Health Continuum Short-Form (MHC-SF), the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the Brief Resilience Scale to assess participants’ psychological state.
THE LARGER TREND
The researchers involved in this study stressed the need for these results to be placed in the context of Australia, where the impact of COVID-19 has been less than it has in the U.S.
Nonetheless, these results point to areas that need to be addressed in every community.
“They flag a deterioration of mental health profiles among the general non-clinical population, suggesting an urgent need for prevention or early intervention to improve mental health and well-being and equip people with resources to better cope in times of adversity,” researchers wrote in the report. “Second, it is likely that levels of distress among people with mental disorders are even higher, pointing to an urgent need for local research and subsequently intervention when this is confirmed.”
The World Health Organization has also called for action on mental health.
In its policy brief, the WHO recommends taking a holistic approach to address the public’s mental health, providing more emergency mental health support systems and building more mental health services now for the future.
“Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times,” the WHO wrote in its report. “It must be front and centre of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, numerous digital health companies have released mental health tools for the public. These include companies like Wysa, Mindstrong, and Meru, which have all made moves this month to improve their services.