The UB takes part in a study on the COVID-19 and lockdown psychological consequences in Spanish population

A research project on the psychological consequences of COVID-19 and the lockdown in Spain states that 78% of the population has observed an increase of feelings of uncertainty, while a 46% has felt their psychological discomfort grow. Led by the University of the Basque Country, the study counted on the participation of the University of Barcelona, University of Murcia, University Miguel Hernández, the University of Granada and UNED, as well as the support from the Ministry for Universities.

Home confinement is a situation with no recent precedents in Spain, and it is expected to have an important impact on the physical and psychological wellbeing of the people. Stopping the economic activity, closing education centers and the isolation of all people for weeks has been a unique situation with many stimuli causing stress. This study responds to the need to have accurate data on the effects of this situation of a pandemic and lockdown on the psychological wellbeing of the population. The data will be used as a reference to present a series of recommendations to cope with potential psychological problems regarding both the general population and vulnerable groups.

The research team working on this project is built by Juana Gómez Benito, professor of Psychometrics at the University of Barcelona; M. Dolores Hidalgo, professor of Psychometrics at the University of Murcia; José Pedro Espada, professor of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment at the University Miguel Hernández; José Luis Padilla, professor of Psychometrics at the University of Granada; Miguel Ángel Santed, tenured lecturer of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment at UNED; Arantxa Gorostiaga, tenured lecturer of Methodology of Behavioural Sciences at the University of the Basque Country, and Nekane Balluerka, professor of Methodology of Behavioural Sciences at the same university.

The paper includes two studies and combines qualitative and quantitative research. A total of 6,829 people aged between 18 and 92 from all autonomous communities have taken part in it. The first study conducted interviews to forty people, which enabled the researchers to provide data on the degree of the psychological impact caused by the confinement and focus on the areas of concern of the interviewees. The analysis of what people said in the interviews enabled the researchers to identify the theme areas of interest to be treated in the quantitative study using this survey. The second study featured an online questionnaire, designed based on the first study, to interview a representative sign of 6,789 participants. With this work, researchers could obtain general conclusions about the Spanish population regarding the psychological effects of the pandemic and the lockdown, at an emotional, cognitive and behavioural scale.

The 46% of interviewees noted they felt more psychological discomfort in general, a larger percentage in people affected by COVID-19, women and young people.

Also, the study notes feelings of unreality among the people who took part in the study. The 38% of men and 48% of women mentioned an increase in this feeling. Out of these, the 8% and 15%, respectively, described it as “very incremental”.

Regarding the indicators on anxiety and fear, the percentage of people who felt an increase in uncertainty is 78%, more than those who had symptoms or a diagnose of COVID-19 or those who lost their jobs temporarily or permanently. It is also noteworthy the concern on suffering from a serious disease (COVID-19 or others), which is highly felt in people over 60 (76%) and an increase in fear of losing the loved ones, especially among people affected by COVID-19%.

Moreover, feelings of depression have also grown, as well as loss of hope and pessimism, which have happened to the 43% of the population. This is a larger tendency in people who featured symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, those who spent the lockdown alone, women, people who lost their jobs and groups of underaged.

A 44% of the participants noted their optimism and confidence has decreased. People who have seen their work situation weaken, those who suffered symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and women, are the groups in which this percentage is larger. Feelings of vitality and energy have worsened toom since about 49% notes they decreased. Again, this effect is notable in women, young people, people affected by COVID-19, people with a worsened work situation and those living in areas where the pandemic is more present.

In general, there has been an increase of feelings of irritability and anger (47%) and mood swings (45%). These figures are higher in young people, women and people with symptoms of COVID-19.

Regarding behavioural changes, the most notable results are the following: more than 40% of the participants noted that they increased their use of high-calorie foods, while the 46% reduced physical activity (this is more notable as they are older). In addition, there is a large percentage of people who have used social networks more (over 70%) and people who watch more TV (67%), and the increase of the use of videogames, specially among youngsters (up to 64%).

The results of the study will serve to write a series of general recommendations for the lockdown situation and prevention of psychological problems as well as specific recommendations for vulnerable groups and mental health and primary care professionals.

Read the complete report.