Longitudinal changes in mental health following the COVID-19 lockdown: Results from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe

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Annals of Epidemiology

Highlights

Research on COVID-19’s effect on mental health across Europe are limited

People aged 50+ in 27 countries had fewer depressive symptoms but felt lonelier during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic

Stricter policy measures attenuated the positive impact on mental health

Loneliness increased, especially among those who had a large close social network pre-COVID-19

Research on the long-term mental health effects of the COVID-19 lockdown is needed

Abstract

Background: To limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, different restriction measures were implemented aiming to ensure social distancing and isolation. However, it is well known that such measures may lead to adverse effects on mental health.

Methods: Data from 36,478 adults aged 50+ from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) was used to investigate the longitudinal changes in mental health from pre-COVID-19 to during the pandemic (summer 2020), considering national restriction levels across the 27 SHARE countries. Multilevel logistic regression models were used to assess changes in feeling ‘sad or depressed’, sleeping problems, and loneliness.

Results: Compared with the mental health status before the COVID-19 outbreak, participants had a lower risk of feeling ‘sad or depressed’ (-14.4%) and having sleeping problems (-9.9%), while the risk of feeling lonely slightly increased (1.2%). However, for individuals in countries with high restriction levels, the risk of feeling ‘sad or depressed’ was attenuated and the risk of loneliness was greater compared to countries with low restriction levels.

Conclusion: Older people felt less depressed and had fewer sleeping problems during the pandemic as compared to before the pandemic, while the risk of loneliness increased slightly. Stricter policy measures attenuated the otherwise positive impact on mental health. Future studies are needed to investigate the long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health.

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