COVID-19 pandemic has had limited effect on people's mental health, study finds

The COVID-19 pandemic has had only a limited effect on the mental health of the population, according to a study


Contrary to popular belief, the COVID-19 pandemic has had only a limited effect on the mental health of the population, according to a study that is “the most comprehensive in the world”, revealed Wednesday by McGill University.

The team, based in Montreal and Ontario, examined the results of 137 different studies conducted on 134 cohorts of people in many parts of the world.

The objective was to compare the presence of mental health symptoms before and after the arrival of COVID-19, mainly during the first months of the health crisis.

For most of the indicators studied, the estimated change turns out to be “close to zero” and “not statistically significant “. Even changes that are significant are only to a small degree.

More marked in women

In the general population, no negative impact was noted regarding general mental health or anxiety. However, the symptoms of depression worsened slightly, says the article published in the British medical journal BMJ.

“This is by far the most comprehensive study on mental health in the context of COVID-19 in the world, and it shows that in general people have been much more resilient than many have assumed,” said Ying Sun, the paper's first author and research coordinator at the Lady Davis Institute, in a statement.

Some subgroups experienced a decline in condition, but in considered “minimal to low”. In women, all indicators deteriorated, which is “worrying”, write the researchers.

Overrepresented among healthcare workers and more likely to have family responsibilities, women have suffered a “disproportionate effect of the pandemic” and some have experienced “a significant worsening of symptoms”. There has also been an increase in domestic violence against them, the study points out.

No 'tsunami'

The authors conclude that there has not been a “tsunami” of mental health problems in the population, as some incomplete studies or some media reports have suggested.

The portrait is actually more “nuanced” even though “the pandemic has affected the lives of many people and [que] some are now experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time”, can we read.

This could be explained by the adaptability of individuals and the efforts of governments in prevention, which must continue, according to the study.

These findings are in addition to other surveys in several countries and territories, including Quebec, which have shown that the outbreak of the pandemic had no measurable impact on the suicide rate.

Study Highlights  

  • In the general population, no changes were found in mental health symptoms general or anxiety, but symptoms of depression increased “slightly”
  • All three mental health indicators studied worsened on a “small” but “significant” scale in women, which is “concerning” 
  • A “minimal to low” in depression symptoms was identified for older adults, college students, and people who identify as a sexual or gender minority
  • Parental mental health reportedly also affected, according to a smaller sample  

*Source: McGill University and scientific article in the journal BMJ. The study is based on analysis of 137 previous research conducted around the world, most of it from high- and middle-income countries. About 75% of participants were adults and 25% children or teenagers.

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