London: While restrictions invoked to curb the transmission of Covid-19 hit the mental health of women, young adults the most, closure of the workplace actually boosted people’s mental well-being during the pandemic, according to a study.
The unprecedentedly severe restrictions meant to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus certainly achieved their immediate goal of saving lives by limiting the potential exposure to the virus, in particular of vulnerable people. However, these measures have also had a lasting impact on the mental health of large sections of the population.
The study led by researchers at Bocconi University in Italy finds that these effects on psychological well-being have hit certain social groups harder, especially (but not exclusively) women with children living at home.
The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, aimed at tracking the association of 13 non-pharmaceutical policy interventions with the mental wellbeing of residents in several European countries.
The team analysed the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of over 15,000 individuals.
The results showed mental wellbeing variations of -3.9 per cent, for international travel restrictions; -1.5 per cent for restrictions on private gatherings; -1.4 per cent, for contact tracing non-pharmaceutical policy interventions; and +1.8 per cent for workplace closures compared to pre-pandemic mental wellbeing levels.
In other words, workplace closure has actually boosted people’s mental health, but that was the only positive effect.
Crucially, there have been significant differences between social groups: results suggest that some of the groups with alarmingly low pre-pandemic mental wellbeing levels were suffering the most.
For instance, before the pandemic women’s average mental wellbeing level was already considerably lower than that of men. Those gaps widened during the pandemic, and this very possibly indicates that disparities themselves have grown.
“All evidence points to the conclusion that those groups who perceive themselves in a less stable, riskier condition suffered more,” said Professor Letizia Mencarini from the varsity.
Such groups include women, people with lower education levels, and young students.
While curbing the impact of the Covid-19 virus on the health systems was clearly the overarching purpose of all non-pharmaceutical policy interventions, these findings suggest that they were designed without sufficient attention to preventing their consequences on the mental health of vulnerable groups.
“More cooperation and more uniform Covid-19-related non-pharmaceutical policy interventions might decrease disparities in how the pandemic hits different countries and reduce the need to restrict movements between them,” Mencarini said.