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Mental Health in Times of Covid-19

CovSocial Project Examines Consequences of Pandemic-related Restrictions for the Berlin Population

News from Nov 15, 2021

A study of the CovSocial project demonstrates how the Covid-19 pandemic affected the emotional state and behavior of Berliners. The research alliance surveyed numerous Berliners online about how they experienced the Covid-19 pandemic and how their lives changed during this time. The results show a shock effect during the first lockdown and a fatigue effect during the second lockdown. This led individuals to feel much more stressed, anxious, and depressed in the second lockdown in March 2021 than they did a year earlier in the first lockdown in March 2020. Social cohesion among citizens also decreased significantly due to the measures. Younger people and women suffered the most from the restrictions. The initial findings of the study are clearly presented in a brochure published as of today and accessible online.

The measures imposed to contain the pandemic not only had an economic impact, but also led to significant social restrictions. The research team headed by the leader of studies Prof. Dr. Tania Singer, scientific head of the Max Planck Society's Social Neuroscience Lab in Berlin and guest professor at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, studied the consequences of these pandemic-related restrictions on people's mental health and social cohesion from January 2020 to April 2021.

CovSocial researcher Malvika Godara summarizes the initial findings: "In the first lockdown, from mid-March to mid-April 2020, participants experienced more depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress. Following the relaxation of the measures, the respondents' sentiment improved significantly. However, the initial level was rarely reached again. During the prolonged lockdown from October 2020 into spring 2021, mental health declined again, ultimately reaching the lowest point so far in the pandemic's trajectory."

The restrictions during the pandemic also changed the ability to adapt and deal with the challenges of everyday life: "During the two lockdowns, the satisfaction with life, optimism, and positive feelings of the Berliners participating in the survey decreased drastically. Especially during the first lockdown, respondents said they were less likely to want to change their situation as such in response to the stress than to accept the situation," explains Tania Singer. As another coping strategy, people spent more time in nature and exercised, especially during the first lockdown and after the lockdown in June 2020.

Social cohesion between people also suffered considerably due to the measures. They participated much less in social and civic life. "While trust in loved ones and neighbors remained stable throughout the pandemic, it declined significantly in institutions such as the health care system and the government at the end of the second lockdown. Interestingly, people trusted institutions like the police, the media or the Berlin Senate more than the rest of the population," says Tania Singer. To compensate for reduced face-to-face interactions, women, in particular, made greater use of social media during the two lockdowns.

In the second phase of the project, starting in May 2021, approximately 300 Berliners from the CovSocial project were invited to participate in ten-week online mental health interventions. In this way, the CovSocial team aims to study the impact on health, the socioemotional situation, and social behavior. "Repeated measures such as multiple lockdowns run the risk of increasing mental health distress and failure to recover. In addition, loneliness in the population increases with each lockdown. This could result in serious stress-related and mental illnesses such as depression. Future analyses of the findings should shed light on which groups of people need the most protection and which mental health interventions best reduce loneliness and mental distress," says Tania Singer.

CovSocial is funded by the Max Planck Society and by start-up funding from the Berlin University Alliance – the Excellence Alliance consisting of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. In addition to the leader of studies Prof. Dr. Tania Singer, scientific head of the Social Neuroscience Lab of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, the research team includes further partners from the MPI for Psychiatry in Munich, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Scientific contact

Prof. Dr. Tania Singer
Social Neuroscience Lab,
Max Planck Society
Tel.: +49 30 209346-180
Email: office@social.mpg.de 

Joint press release from Max Planck Society, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin along with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Press contact

Social Neuroscience Lab
Max Planck Society
Tel.: +49 30 209346-180
Email: office@social.mpg.de 

Hans-Christoph Keller, acting press spokesperson for the Berlin University Alliance and press spokesperson for Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Email: medien@berlin-university-alliance.de 

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