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How the COVID-19 pandemic only took a limited toll on people’s mental health

Some experts warned of a "mental health tsunami" due to the combined stress of illness and lockdowns during the pandemic.

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The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health. (Photo by Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken only a relatively limited toll on the mental health of the majority of people around the world, according to new research.

The most comprehensive study on mental well-being in the wake of COVID-19 underlines the strength of human resilience, scientists said.

Some experts warned of a "mental health tsunami" due to the combined stress of illness and lockdowns during the pandemic.

But a major review of dozens of mental health studies suggests that those fears have not been founded.

Canadian scientists led the review of 137 studies in various languages involving 134 groups of people from around the world, published in BMJ.

Most of the studies were from high or middle-income countries, around three out of every four participants were adults while 25 percent were children or teenagers aged 10 to 19.

The research team was surprised to discover that, despite the dramatic warnings to the contrary, where changes in mental health symptoms were identified compared to before the pandemic, those changes were "minimal" for the most part.

They said the findings held true whether the studies covered the mental health of the population as a whole or in specific groups.

Study senior author Professor Brett Thombs, of McGill University, said: “Mental health in COVID-19 is much more nuanced than people have made it out to be.

“Claims that the mental health of most people has deteriorated significantly during the pandemic have been based primarily on individual studies that are ‘snapshots’ of a particular situation, in a particular place, at a particular time.

"They typically don’t involve any long-term comparison with what had existed before or came after.”

He said that by conducting an overview of studies from around the world with data about the mental health of various groups, both before and during the pandemic, the researchers found that there was "little change" in the mental well-being of most of the populations studied.

First author Dr. Ying Sun said: “This is by far the most comprehensive study on COVID-19 mental health in the world, and it shows that, in general, people have been much more resilient than many have assumed.”

Some women experienced a worsening of symptoms - whether of anxiety, depression or general mental health, according to the findings.

Researchers examined 137 studies of people globally, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Andrew Neel via Pexels)

The research team said that could be due to their multiple family responsibilities, working in health care, or, in some cases, family violence.

Dr. Danielle Rice, an Assistant Professor at McMaster University, said: “This is concerning and suggests that some women, as well as some people in other groups, have experienced changes for the worse in their mental health and will need ongoing access to mental health support.

“The Canadian federal and provincial governments along with governments elsewhere in the world have worked to increase access to mental health services during the pandemic and should ensure that these services continue to be available.”

Other findings showed that depression symptoms worsened by "minimal to small" amounts for older adults, university students, and people who self-identified as belonging to a sexual or gender minority group but not for other groups.

For parents, general mental health and anxiety symptoms were seen to deteriorate, although those results were based on only a small number of studies and participants.

The research team said the findings are consistent with the largest study on suicide during the pandemic, which included monthly data from official sources on suicide from 21 countries between Jan. 1, 2019, or earlier to July 31, 2020, and found no evidence of a statistically significant increase in any country or region; statistically significant decreases did occur in 12 countries or regions.

Prof. Thombs added: “Our findings underline the importance of doing rigorous science – otherwise, our expectations and assumptions - together with poor-quality studies and anecdotes – can become self-fulfilling prophecies."

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