The health and economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in recent human history. Apart from physical health, the pandemic has affected psychological wellbeing as documented by existing research on the increased levels of depression, stress, loneliness and anxiety during the lockdown period. However, we do not know the role of specific events that people may have experienced during the first lockdown and how the consequences of these experiences vary across age and gender.
In a new study, Bruno Arpino (University of Florence) and Marta Pasqualini (OSC, Sciences Po) examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on feelings of depression in Italy according to three dimensions: age, gender and type of negative events experienced during the first nationwide lockdown. These negative events can include (1) reduced physical activity, (2) worsened relation with a partner, (3) worsened relation with other people, (4) income loss, (5) job loss, (6) difficulties with organizing work or study from home, (7) death of a relative or friend due to COVID-19 and (8) infection of a relative or friend.
To do so, the authors use a unique dataset drawn from an online survey implemented in April 2020 on the population aged 18+ (For more info see: https://sites.google.com/unifi.it/intergen-covid).
Overall, their findings show that the pandemic has created a variety of stressors whose effects strongly depend upon a person’s gender and age. In line with other studies, the authors find that women – in comparison to men – more often reported experiencing increased feelings of depression. This pattern was also found among younger respondents, especially for young men. Finally, they examine this heterogeneity as a function of specific events experienced during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. They show that some of the pandemic’s consequences (e.g., worsened quality of partnership relationship and reduction of physical activity) negatively affected feelings of depression among almost all demographic sub-groups. In contrast, others displayed a group-specific effect (e.g., worsened relationship with people other than the partner or difficulties in organizing study and work from home). Finally, older people aged 50+ experienced more frequently than other groups increased feelings of depression due to the death of a relative or a friend from COVID-19.
This study contributes to the understanding of the varied impact of the pandemic on people’s psychological wellbeing. Identifying population’s groups at higher risk of experiencing feelings of depression as a result of COVID-19 is crucial to limit the pandemic’s indirect long-term consequences.