Covid-19 is causing mental health issues in different ways in different sectors of the population. So the important thing is to identify which segments of the population are at the most risk in order to take preemptive action, so says a new study from researchers at Bar Ilan University.
The new Bar-Ilan University study reveals a correlation between physiological data collected prior to the pandemic and heightened COVID-related fears, particularly among individuals with average to larger households.
Covid-19 related fears were also higher in women compared to men and in individuals who reported a decline in financial status during the pandemic.
This should come as little or no surprise to most people. Women with children were obviously more likely to be stuck at home all day every day with the kids when the schools all closed because of Covid-19. And the more kids in the family the harder this must have been.
And then there was the problem with all of those married couples stuck at home together 24/7. Because of Covid-19 they not only did not go to work every day, but they also could not get out of the house from time to time to spend a boys night our or a girls night out with the friends.
Married people spend the daytime apart and so get enjoyment out of their evening time together. And on weekends they can either do separate things, or go somewhere together with the kids. But not during the Covi-19 shutdowns.
The Bar Ilan study on Covid-19, published in Stress: International Journal on the Biology of Stress, was led by Prof. Ilanit Gordon, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Psychology and Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, together with Prof. Danny Horesh, of the Department of Psychology, and members of Gordon’s lab, including Alon Tomashin, Nir Milstein, Oded Mayo and Adi Korisky.
One hundred eighty-five adults who participated in the study completed a questionnaire which included three queries concerning fears and worries about different aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic: unknowingly carrying the virus, infecting others with the virus, and family members contracting the virus. The survey took place during the first lockdown in Israel in mid-2020.
In 2017-2018, months prior to the collection of the COVID survey, the same group of adults took part in one of two in-lab experiments as undergraduate students. In those experiments electrodermal activity (EDA) at rest, measuring the activity of sweat glands in the palm, were collected. Resting EDA is a physiological signal that reflects heightened responsiveness to the environment or to internal events – if we are very vigilant to changes in the environment, stressed or overly concerned, then there are subsequent changes in sweat gland activity, as well.
“The fact that EDA was measured two to three years prior to the pandemic adds another layer of complexity, as it shows the effects of one’s physiological makeup on one’s emotional reactions during a later crisis,” says Prof. Ilanit Gordon, who led the study.
In another finding women experienced greater levels of worry compared to men over Covid-19, a result in line with numerous studies, including one by Prof. Horesh in 2015 indicating that women report higher levels of stress, anxiety and post-traumatic symptoms. According to the researchers, one explanation for these gender differences that could be particularly relevant to the pandemic is that women were often found to show an increased tendency to monitor stressful situations, possibly leading to increased threat perception and subsequent distress.
The study also dealt with all those people who suffered a loss of income due to Covid-19. Many were temporarily laid off and unemployment benefits do not cover 100% of their lost wages. And small business owners saw their businesses fall apart due to lack of commerce.
Finally, an association was also found between a major deterioration in one’s financial status during COVID-19 and one’s level of worry. Twenty percent of the participants reported a substantial reduction in income, and the financial state of 41% of them decreased, to some degree, due to the pandemic. While the massive economic impact of the pandemic may have severe mental health implications, the findings of the study show that financial difficulties are also associated with health-related fears, thus moving beyond one’s livelihood and income.