New research indicates that general mental health and anxiety symptoms hardly deteriorated during the pandemic. But are its findings accurate?
What does the study tell us?
New research published this week in the British Medical Journal’s BMJ Review analyzed 137 different studies of people’s mental health conducted in high-income European and Asian countries.
According to the study, most people were resilient during the pandemic and made the best of a difficult situation. That said, while this applies to the general population, depression worsened overall, particularly among women, older people, university students, and those belonging to sexual or gender minorities.
As highlighted this week by My Mind News for International Women’s Day, other studies have found that women felt the pandemic’s impact more because of their jobs and role in family life.
Diving into the findings
According to researchers at Canadian institutions such as McGill, Ottawa, and Toronto universities, at a population level, there has been a high level of resilience during COVID-19. Furthermore, changes in general mental health, anxiety symptoms, and depression symptoms have been minimal to small.
Despite this, however, the pandemic continues to affect societies worldwide. The Canadian researchers state that the pandemic has affected many people’s lives, and some are now experiencing mental-health difficulties for the first time. Governments should “continue to ensure that mental health support is available and respond to population needs,” according to the study.
Important exclusions to note
While the study highlights what happened in the higher-income countries, it fails to consider the happenings in lower-income countries, children, young people, and those with existing problems. Experts say this is important as these are the groups most likely affected. Failing to include such groups risks hiding significant effects among disadvantaged groups.
Speaking about the report and its findings, Dr. Gemma Knowles, from King’s College London, told the BBC,
“There is evidence from other studies of considerable variation – with some people’s mental health improving and others’ deteriorating. This may mean no overall increase – but this shouldn’t be interpreted as suggesting the pandemic didn’t have major negative effects among some groups.”
What have other studies shown?
Other studies have suggested the pandemic increased mental distress for particular groups, such as children, young people, and parents in poverty. As many as one in six seven-16-year-olds and one in four 17-19-year-olds in England had a probable mental disorder in 2022, an online NHS survey found, up on previous years.
Separate NHS figures show the number of children in contact with mental health services rose by nearly 30% between 2020-21 and 2021-22, to almost a million, as reported by My Mind News recently. And as reported in a survey carried out in 2021 by mental health charity Mind, about a third of adults and young people said their mental health had become much worse since March 2020.
This report also showed that those most affected by the pandemic were people who struggled with their mental health before COVID-19.
Speaking about the overall situation regarding mental health following the pandemic, Dr. Roman Raczka, who chairs the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology, said,
“We do know that overstretched and underfunded mental-health services have been unable to meet soaring demand in recent years. With more people reaching out for support, it is vital that the government adequately funds services to deliver the support that is needed.”
He concludes that, ultimately, the whole picture remains unclear, and more studies on people with health problems in deprived areas are needed to obtain such a picture.
The findings of the research just published may come as a shock to some but possibly not to others.
However, given the wide range of groups excluded from the study, those who are least surprised might well be those living in the higher income countries, where poverty is low and access to mental health services, while perhaps not widely and freely available perhaps, are more accessible than in other regions.
But one thing is certainly clear, as covered regularly by My Mind News, the general direction of travel for society’s mental health is downwards, and support services need to be ramped up to meet that situation head-on.
What are your thoughts on the research’s findings? Let us know in the comments.