New research has added to the growing body of evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a heavy mental health toll even on people who are not directly impacted by the disease.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, found that people in countries with low rates of infection and fatalities — like Australia at the onset of the pandemic — still experience twice as much depression and anxiety.
These outcomes are largely related to financial stress and disruptions in people’s social lives.
“We already know from past pandemic research that the people who are most affected, such as those who become ill and/or are hospitalized and their careers affected, experience more severe impacts,” said study author Amy Dawel from the Australian National University.
“However, the impacts of Covid-19 on the broader population in relatively less affected countries are also likely to be substantial.
“Our data show that the by-products of Covid-19 are affecting populations broadly and the concern is that countries with strong restrictions, who appear to circumvent the worst of Covid-19, may overlook the indirect impacts of the pandemic,” Dawel added.
To capture a snapshot of the population’s mental health just after the first Covid-19 restrictions went into effect, the research team surveyed nearly 1,300 Australian adults.
Since the survey occurred in the early stages of the pandemic, only 36 participants reported having received a Covid-19 diagnosis or having a close contact who had been diagnosed.
There were also relatively few people who had been tested, had self-isolated or who had known anyone who had any of these experiences.
Surprisingly, these cases of Covid-19 contact showed no link to mental health impact.
In contrast, financial distress and disruptions in work and social activities were significantly associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as lower psychological well being. However, working from home wasn’t associated with any negative effects.
Higher rates of mental health symptoms were also found among people who were younger, identified themselves as female or who reported having a pre-existing mental health condition.
“We hope that these data highlight that the way countries manage Covid-19 is likely to impact their population’s mental health, beyond those most directly affected by the disease,” Dawel said.
Recently, a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour found that the excessive use of social media for Covid-19 health information is related to both depression and secondary trauma.