Significant increase in psychological symptoms

A study of Danube University Krems examined mental health in times of coronavirus

07/05/2020

The coronavirus pandemic and the pertinent restrictions have a clear impact on mental health: the frequency of depressive symptoms has multiplied in Austria, and there has been a significant increase in sleep disorders and anxiety symptoms. Adults under 35 years of age, women, singles and people without work are particularly affected.

The coronavirus pandemic and the containment measures have not only changed our lives dramatically, but have a significant impact on our psyche. According to a recent study by Danube University Krems on a sample of 1,009 people that is representative for Austria, depressive symptoms have surged from about four per cent to over 20 per cent in Austria. A similarly strong increase is evident for anxiety symptoms, which rose from five per cent to 19 per cent. In addition, about 16 per cent currently suffer from sleep disorders.

"The findings are alarming", explains study author Prof. Christoph Pieh, Head of the Department for Psychotherapy and Biopsychosocial Health: "In particular adults under 35 years of age, women, singles and people without work are burdened by the current situation, while people over 65 years of age are significantly less affected". These results are part of a larger study that examined the effects of the coronavirus exit restrictions had on mental health in Austria and the UK after four weeks.

Especially young adults suffer the most from the situation. In all the mental health scales studied, this age group scores the lowest, while older people are less strained by the current situation.

One out of four people in the UK suffers from severe depressive symptoms

In Great Britain, which is considered one of the most severely affected countries in Europe due to coronavirus caused deaths in more than 28,000 cases, the people are also under more serious mental stress. Overall, 40 per cent in Great Britain suffer from depressive symptoms and only looking at cases with severe symptoms, the discrepancy becomes even greater: while in Austria eight per cent suffer from severe depressive symptoms, the figure in Great Britain is as high as 25 per cent. This difference between Great Britain is also reflected in all other scales, such as quality of life, well-being, anxiety symptoms or sleep disorders. Thus, Great Britain is about three times more severely affected than Austria.

Exercising regularly helps

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, numerous studies confirmed a positive influence of exercise and sport on mental health. This assumption is also confirmed during the initial restrictions: Those questioned who frequently practice sport have around 20 per cent better values in the WHO questionnaire on quality of life than people who do not. The place of residence also appears to have an impact on mental health. Compared to the other federal states, Carinthia scores best on all the mental health scales surveyed.

Immediate psychological help necessary

"Now, it is important that psychological help is offered quickly," demands Prof. Pieh." Especially regarding the highly burdened groups of people, further measures are necessary that are available at short notice and specially adapted to the current situation, such as crisis interventions, short-term therapies or psychotherapy by telephone or internet". It is impossible to assess how the situation will develop now. Therefore, a further examination will take place in two months. Whether the effect continues or returns to normal despite the relaxation of the initial restrictions will then become clear.

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