A team of researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom conducted a systematic review of current research and meta-analysis in a recent study published in the journal BMJ to compare the symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as overall mental health, among the general population before and after the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak killed an extraordinary number of people around the world. Furthermore, the extreme societal changes linked with illness mitigation efforts and the fear of the disease have taken a considerable toll on people’s mental health all over the world. As a result, an increasing number of studies have found that the pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in mental health in vast segments of the population.
However, the majority of these studies have been cross-sectional, involving respondents who are above the mental health measure criteria and making no comparisons to mental health levels before the pandemic’s commencement. These mental health thresholds are often used for screening and are not a strong measure of community prevalence.
Additionally, depression, anxiety, and overall mental health symptoms deteriorated during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to two systematic evaluations that investigated mental health quality before and after the pandemic. Several other relevant research has since been published, which may provide a better and more current understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.
Concerning the research
The researchers conducted a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses in the current study to establish the influence of COVID-19 on mental health. The reviews included research that assessed pre- and post-COVID-19 mental health levels in the same cohort, as well as studies that compared results from January 2018 to December 2019 and after January 2020. The eligible studies were required to compare outcomes in pre- and post-COVID-19 cohorts with at least 90% participant overlap.
The study’s outcomes comprised continuous scores based on questionnaires on mental health symptoms, as well as the proportion of people who scored over the threshold or met the criteria for a mental condition based on validated questionnaires on symptoms and diagnostic reviews. The measured outcomes for the living systematic reviews included overall mental health, symptoms of sadness and anxiety, loneliness, stress, sorrow, burnout, and rage.
According to the findings, almost 94,000 studies were reviewed by April 2022, with 137 being unique research from 134 cohorts. 77% came from high-income countries, while 20% came from upper-middle-income ones. The study revealed no changes in overall mental health measures or anxiety symptoms among the general population, but symptoms connected to depression did worsen slightly.
Female participants’ overall mental health and symptoms of depression and anxiety were shown to deteriorate little. Nevertheless, other studies that looked at subgroups other than women found only marginally worse anxiety and depression symptoms after the COVID-19 epidemic began. Curiously, two investigations found that anxiety symptoms, general mental health, and depression symptoms had improved just somewhat.
According to the meta-analysis findings, no additional subgroups exhibited any significant worsening of symptoms across all categories of studied outcomes. Three studies published between March 2020 and late 2020 found that while mental health-related symptoms worsened initially during the COVID-19 pandemic, they quickly reverted to pre-pandemic levels.
According to these data, the general population demonstrated remarkable levels of resilience during the epidemic. Nonetheless, the authors highlighted that a few rigorous research found that distinct population groups faced considerable worsening of mental health issues that differed from the general population’s mental health levels. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed lives, and many people are experiencing new mental health issues. The authors suggest that the long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health should be evaluated on a regular basis and that governments should make enough resources and support available to persons having mental health concerns.
Overall, the findings suggested that many of the studies that investigated the impact of COVID-19 on mental health had a significant risk of bias, and these findings should be interpreted with caution for the general population. The findings showed that the general public was not experiencing a mental health crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather showed great resilience. While female participants saw modest symptoms increasing across all outcome domains, the total changes were negligible across all subgroups.