3. Mental health during the pandemic

The session also discussed the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Maite Garolera, head of Clinical Neuropsychology at Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa, looked at the direct and indirect mechanisms through which SARS-CoV-2 can cause neurological damage. David Bartrés-Faz, professor of Psychology at the University of Barcelona and principal investigator in the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative (BBHI), presented the results on the pandemic’s mental health repercussions from the BBHI, a research project at Institut Guttmann with over 5,000 participants that aims to discover and understand how to maintain brain health. Taking advantage of prior information and adding interviews carried out by a group of volunteers during the pandemic, the study’s scientists have analyzed how the social restrictions affected mental health. “Our hypothesis was that the impact would depend on individual differences,” explained Bartrés.

The results of the study show that, during the lockdown in Spain that began in March, participants’ anxiety rose moderately but returned to ‘pre-pandemic’ levels in the following months. “It particularly affected young people,” highlighted Bartrés, “probably because it had a greater effect on their daily lives.” 

The lockdown also increased ratings on depression scales, although clinically the effect wasn’t very significant. Unlike anxiety, however, this increase held steady in the following months. And in this case, “it mainly affected the older segment in the study (between 60 and 70 years old), and particularly the lowest income bracket.”

Plus, there was a paradoxical effect: feelings of loneliness and isolation decreased during the lockdown, especially among those who suffered from depression before the pandemic. “There were a lot of public displays of solidarity those days, which could have increased their feeling of belonging and community,” said Bartrés.