14 June 2020 – Policy Brief
The Scientific task force was tasked with identifying psychological effects of confinement and deconfinement. The Ethical, legal, and social group worked with the Swiss National Science Foundation division 1 and with the authors of the Swiss Corona Stress Study to develop the present brief.
Studies from several countries, including China, USA, and Iran revealed a high prevalence of distress and mental health problems in the population due to the COVID-19 crisis. It is important to note that the psychological responses to the pandemic and the countermeasures taken are likely to depend on country-specific socioeconomic and health factors and country-specific containment measures. The survey of the Swiss Corona Stress Study in over 10’000 individuals revealed that in Switzerland the psychological reactions to the lockdown were very diverse: While 50% of the participants reported an increase in stress levels, 24% reported no change, and 26% a decrease in stress levels during lockdown as compared to the time before the pandemic. The changes in stress levels were highly correlated with changes in depressive symptoms. The prevalence of moderately severe or severe depressive symptoms raised from 3.4% (before the corona crisis) to 9.1% (during lockdown). The study also revealed, which lockdown related factors were most strongly related with distress. Among the top ranked were burden due to changes at work/school, burden of childcare, loneliness in people living alone, and burden of not being able to spend more time with others. The findings from the second wave of 10’000 participants in Switzerland that was acquired in the phase of the partial deconfinement showed that anxiety levels decreased as compared to the lockdown phase, but stress levels and depressive symptoms remained comparable.
With regard to psychological aspects and mental health consequences of future COVID-19 countermeasures (confinement) we recommend:
- Inclusion of mitigation measures regarding the main stress factors whenever possible
- Inform the public about potential mental health consequences and the importance to seek professional help if needed.
- Maintain good communication with the public and continue to build on individual and collective responsibility to increase willingness to support the measures.
For the phase of deconfinement we recommend clear communication to avoid the possible misconception that the pandemic threat is over as soon as some pandemic control measuresare lifted.