New study observes impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people’s mental wellbeing

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A new study found that the mental wellbeing of women, young children, and those in unstable conditions during the pandemic was affected more significantly compared to other groups in the face of COVID-19 restrictions.

The study was published in Social Science & Medicine and conducted by team of researchers from the DONDENA Center for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policies at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. The researchers aimed to better understand how COVID-19 restrictions in various parts of Europe affected the mental wellbeing of different groups.

Data for the study came from the Eurofound Survey, “Living, Working and COVID-19,” which collected information on more than 150,000 Europeans from 27 European Union-member states and the U.K. For this study, researchers pulled a sample of over 15,000 individuals from three waves of the Eurofound survey that included questions concerning the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on individuals. Researchers analyzed data on 13 specific nonpharmacological policy interventions (NPI) along with the mental wellbeing of participants covering the period from April 2020 to March 2021.

The study’s results, as a whole, showed that contact tracing, as well as restrictions on international travel and private gatherings had negative effects on participants’ wellbeing. However, the study also found that compared to people’s mental health pre-pandemic, workplace closures had a positive effect on participants’ wellbeing.

When researchers studied the effects of NPIs on different social groups, they found that those who were at risk for low levels of wellbeing pre-pandemic suffered the most from NPIs. According to the study, previous research showed the wellbeing of women was already considerably lower than the wellbeing of men pre-pandemic, but after NPIs were implemented, that gap became even wider. In addition to women, those with lower education levels, young students, and those in the poorer Eastern European countries, showed the most significant decrease in wellbeing rates after NPIs were implemented.

“All evidence points to the conclusion that those groups who perceive themselves in a less stable, riskier condition suffered more,” Letizia Mencarini, PhD, professor of demography at the department of Social and Political Science at Bocconi University, said in a statement.

According to the study’s authors these findings indicate that while NPIs may have been designed to prevent physical illness, the mental health and wellbeing of many individuals suffered as a result of the restrictions.

“More cooperation and more uniform COVID-19-related NPIs might decrease disparities in how the pandemic hits different European countries and reduce the need to restrict movements between them,” said Mencarini.