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Covid-19 effects on mental health were minimal, study shows

A review led by McGill University experts found the majority of people tried to make the best of a bad situation, displaying the pandemic had ‘minimal’ effects on mental health.

Research, published in the British Medical Journal yesterday, examined 137 studies from around the world led by researchers at McGill University in Canada.

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From this, depression was found to worsen a little overall among women, older people, university students and those belonging to sexual or gender minorities.

This was found to be as a result of potentially having to juggle more family responsibilities, or because workloads increased in health and social care roles, or because more women became involved in domestic violent situations.

However, experts surprisingly uncovered the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in ‘minimal’ changes in mental health symptoms among the general population. Brett Thombs, a Psychiatry Professor at McGill University and Senior Author of the study, said some of the public narrative around mental health impacts of Covid-19 were based on ‘poor-quality studies and anecdotes’, which became ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’.

As a result of this, Professor Thombs claimed there is a greater need for more ‘rigorous science’.

However, some experts have been found to dispute this recent finding, warning such readings could obscure the impact on individual groups such as children, women and people with low incomes or pre-existing mental health problems. They also said other robust studies had reached different conclusions.

Professor Thombs 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.’

Additionally, researchers who contributed towards the study, said their findings were consistent with the largest study on suicide during the pandemic – which found no increase – and applied to most groups, including different ages, sexes, genders and whether people had pre-existing conditions.

Three quarters of the research published focused mainly on adults of which the majority came from middle-and high-income countries.

The research team concluded that governments and health agencies need to produce better quality and more timely mental health data to better target resources, and that governments should continue to properly fund services – particularly for the groups that were most affected by the pandemic.

Photo by Dan Meyers

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