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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Mauricio Díaz Nissen

How isolation during COVID-19 affected our mental health

The year 2020 is a year we will remember for a long time, as one of the wider pandemics of the contemporary world spread around the globe and change our lives. COVID-19 entered our lives and our households and filled them with fear and anxiety, and in some cases also with infections and death.

We were 'trapped' in our homes, watching the news or going to Facebook to see how was the world, how the disease was spreading, which measures were being taken by each government, and hoping that this whole ordeal ended soon.

One of the biggest problems we faced when the pandemic started was the isolation and quarantine regulations. Suddenly, our lives came to a halt. We were not going to our 9-17 job five days a week. We were not going out to party and drink with our friends. We were not going to the park with our children. Sometimes, we could not even visit our parents or partners. This with all the socio-economic implications it could have (e.g., many people lost their jobs or were pushed to get jobs they didn't imagine could do just to have some income) apart from the psychological and psycho-social implications of all of this.

Because of this, in 2020, just after the pandemic started, our group of psychologists, concerned about these effects (which we were seeing on social media, talked about in forums, and sometimes even discussed on television), started an independent research on how the pandemic was affecting people psychologically and emotionally. For this, we created a questionnaire inquiring about different feelings and behaviours people could develop due to isolation during the pandemic. We inquired about negative feelings (the ones that were more mentioned in previous epidemic studies, and that people were talking about online), and positive feelings (which were not previously reported in studies, but which people were reporting in social media and forums).

Based on this questionnaire, we found that many people (at the very beginning of the pandemic) started having feelings like they were not themselves, that reality was a dream, or that everything was not really happening. These feelings were usually accompanied by feelings related to depression, such as loneliness, boredom, and oversleeping; and feelings related to stress, such as anguish and restlessness.

So, additionally, we used psychological tests for depression and stress, finding that the levels of these two conditions were higher in the people under isolation after the pandemic started than the levels that the World Health Organisation had reported for the general population years previous to the pandemic.

So, we found that the pandemic and isolation were affecting our mental health, and they were doing it big. And amongst the most affected population was those previously diagnosed with mental health problems, or whose job or financial situation was affected by the pandemic. All of this was seen at the very beginning of the pandemic (13th of April, 2020).

However, we also found that not all people saw bad things about being isolated. Indeed, many people reported positive things about the isolation period as it allowed them to have more time which they could use for improving themselves and spend with their families. Indeed, family relationships were often perceived as support to endure the difficult times of the pandemic. This also taught us about how resilient people can be, and how some people could turn around an uncertain and undesirable situation.

Although the article was published a bit too late (two years after the data was collected) it taught us about the fragility of mental health, the psychological consequences of social isolation and quarantine, and the necessity to design prevention and intervention programmes for people during and after isolation, emphasising on people with a history of mental health problems and economically vulnerable population. However, we also learned that people figure out a way to make the most out of difficult times, putting into practice their resilience mechanisms.

If you want to read the original article, you can find it at this link.

Finally, our team would like to thank Patrícia Sofia Tóth, Thomas Alstrup, Alejandro Franco, Margarita Alba, Jesper Nissen, Rene Sjæland, and David Lacagnina for helping us translate the survey so we could conduct our study in seven different languages.

We also want to thank Andreas Lieberoth for helping us during the process of planning and

distributing the survey, and writing the text.

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