COVID-19’s elevated toll on mental health varied across the globe: uOttawa review


By Paul Logothetis

Media Relations Agent, University of Ottawa

Woman huddled on ground behind couch
Joice Kelly
Mental health problems remained elevated over the pandemic as meta-analysis reveals North Americans suffered increased anxiety, depression & PTSD while Latin America and Europe fell into the thralls of insomnia

A meta-analysis review by researchers from the University of Ottawa has confirmed elevated but differing mental health distress levels across the globe over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vulnerability, Trauma, Resilience and Culture Research Laboratory (V-TRaC) directed by Dr. Jude Mary Cénat screened 18,070 published articles to include 64 longitudinal studies in the systematic review, which offered a clear picture of the evolution of the effect of the pandemic on global mental health.

Published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found:

  • Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were highest in North America compared to Europe, Asia and Latin America.
  • Psychological distress and insomnia were more prevalent in Latin America and Europe.
  • Symptoms of poor mental health – PTSD, psychological distress, suicidal ideations, loneliness, and substance use – remained elevated over the pandemic.
  • An overall decrease in anxiety and depression between the start of the pandemic through to September 2021, with these symptoms reaching their peak in May 2020.

“This meta-analysis reveals how the evolution of mental health problems is related to the evolution of the pandemic as well as the social, economic and health problems that accompany it. This study confirms that globally, the mental health of populations has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Cénat, Director of the V-TRaC lab and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Science’s School of Psychology, whose mental health research has also focused on Black health

“Future studies should systematically report data on gender, age groups, education level, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and migration status to allow for better comparison. They will also help identify groups that are more at risk of experiencing mental health problems. Additional studies also need to be conducted in certain parts of the world such as India, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, to better understand the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of diverse populations.”

'The global evolution of mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies,’ is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, 15 October 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2022.07.011

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