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i3S studies impact of pandemic on mental health

With the objective of continuing to assess the social and economic impact of the pandemic worldwide, the second phase of the global survey called “Life with Corona” was launched about six months ago, whose Portuguese partner is i3S. The data already obtained show that a considerable part of the population has mild symptoms of depression and that around 50% of respondents in Portugal, Argentina, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as 40% of Germans, show more severe symptoms of depression. The younger generation and families with children are the most affected.

“Life with Corona" was launched on March 23, 2020 and, in this second phase, which started on October 1st, “we tried to understand the psychological effects that the pandemic and preventive measures have had on people. Until the 4th of March, we had received a total of 21,552 responses from 136 countries and so far Portugal is the second country with the most participation in the study, after Germany”, stresses Liliana Abreu, Portuguese researcher at the University of Konstanz (Germany), one of the institutions that leads the project.

Liliana Abreu, who was already a researcher at i3S and with whom she continues to collaborate through this project, explains that they analyzed data related to Portugal and found that “50% of participants have moderate depression levels”, which, she says, “is significant”. One of the identified causes has to do with the decrease in monthly income. “We also realized, contrary to what was thought, that younger people are more likely to experience higher levels of depression compared to older people, which exposes the additional burden that younger generations are suffering”, she adds.

“There are a lot of studies going on about the pandemic, having a good level of participation in an international study, demonstrates the interest of the Portuguese in helping us to understand the impact that this crisis is having on their lives”, stresses Liliana Abreu. The data that arrived from Portugal is similar to that obtained in the other countries and it is evident that mental health was strongly affected by the pandemic. “Just having symptoms of the disease can trigger mental health problems. This suggests that the fear of being sick with COVID may be causing higher levels of stress”, add the researchers.

The international team of researchers is now comparing how those living alone and those living with others are reacting, as well as those living with children and those who do not. According to data already available on the website Life with Corona, people who live alone “emerge as the group that had the worst experiences during the pandemic. They are more likely to report lower levels of life satisfaction than the overall sample average and are also more likely to experience anxiety or depression”. On the contrary, individuals living with another person “have generally dealt better with the pandemic and its countermeasures. Compared to the sample average, they report greater subjective well-being, and are less likely to experience depression, anxiety or to show aggressive behaviors”.

As for people living with one or more adults and children, compared to the sample average, “they have the worst indicators of food consumption. They are more likely to gain weight, snack more often and smoke and drink more than any other group. They also have higher levels of anxiety and aggression. They are also more likely to have experienced greater tensions between members of their families”.

The researchers’ aim is to record the voices and experiences of citizens around the world during this unusual period of pandemic. Non-profit, and based on rigorous academic methods, the project targets adult populations worldwide and is translated into 27 languages. The survey is ongoing at least until the end of 2021, so it is still possible to participate. Maria Rui Correia, a researcher at i3S responsible for disseminating the project in Portuguese territory, appeals “to all Portuguese people to respond to the survey - because only with the participation of citizens can a real image of what is happening in our population at this time of time of pandemic be captured”.

The “Life with Corona” initiative came from a team of international researchers in the field of social sciences, namely from the International Security and Development Center (ISDC), in Germany, from the World Institute for Research in Development Economics at the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), in Finland, the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ), in Germany, the University of Constance, in Germany, and the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), in the United Kingdom. The project is led by Tilman Brück (ISDC/IGZ), Patrícia Justino (UNU-WIDER), Anke Hoeffler (University of Constance) and Wolfgang Stojetz (ISDC). In addition to the i3S, this Citizen Science project was contributed to by institutions and organizations from various countries. The researchers aim to obtain relevant data to support sustainable socio-economic responses to the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.