FASS News, Research

The mental health consequences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic

May 25, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic had upended lives in countless ways and its effects continue to reverberate through society. Researchers across the psychological sciences have amassed vast amounts of data on how the ongoing distress, isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic has affected mental health.

Distinguished Simon Fraser University (SFU) Professor of psychology Lara Aknin is Chair of The Lancet’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Task Force, an international team of researchers providing expertise and recommendations on pandemic response and recovery relating to psychological wellbeing. The group is part of The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission gathering insights into the scope and consequences of the global health crisis.

The task force wanted to know if psychological distress, self-harm, subjective wellbeing and loneliness had changed during the first year of the pandemic as well as the factors predicting greater risk or protection in these areas. They also sought insights into the type of experiences and behaviours associated with better or poorer mental health during this time. Their findings are outlined in Mental Health During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review and Recommendations for Moving Forward.

Reviewing high-quality cross-sectional and longitudinal studies from more than 20 countries around the world, the task force found that anxiety, depression and distress increased dramatically in the early months of the pandemic but then declined to near pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, suicide rates, life satisfaction and loneliness remained largely stable throughout the first year.