A new study in China found that those who worked during the pandemic showed better physical and mental health than those who stopped working. The study was published in Psychiatry Research.
Near the end of January 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 caused Chinese officials to lock down the entire city of Wuhan, affecting its 12 million residents. Gradually, other cities in the Hubei province took similar lockdown measures. The impact of these restrictions on the work lives and well-being of residents is unknown. With this recent study, the researchers hoped to provide insight for other countries experiencing variations of lockdown.
A survey was conducted roughly one month into the lockdown of Wuhan and surrounding cities, on February 20-21. Participants were 369 adults from 64 jurisdictions of China that were affected by COVID-19 to varying degrees. Each location was given a score for severity of the outbreak by calculating the number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people.
Each subject’s mental and physical health was assessed with the Short Form-12 scale, the Kessler psychological distress scale, and the Satisfaction With Life scale. To examine certain factors that might impact health and well-being, participants were asked how often they exercised and whether or not they were working during the lockdown.
The results revealed interesting trends when it came to working during the outbreak. Subjects who continued working at home showed better mental health than those who stopped working entirely. Those who worked at the office during the outbreak showed even greater benefits, presenting with both better mental and physical health than those who stopped working. Specifically, those working at the office showed lower levels of distress and higher life satisfaction than those who were not working.
Results showed that severity of the outbreak was related to decreased life satisfaction for people who had chronic medical issues but not for those who did not. This suggests that those with underlying medical problems were especially affected by the severity of the situation where they lived.
Surprisingly, the severity of the outbreak was also associated with decreased life satisfaction in those who exercised more than 2.5 hours a day. Those who exercised less than half an hour a day actually showed higher life satisfaction in areas with the more severe outbreaks, over less affected areas. The researchers discuss these unexpected findings, suggesting, “Maybe these people could better justify or rationalize their inactive lifestyles in more severely affected cities … we may need to pay attention to more physically active individuals, who might be more frustrated by the restrictions due to the outbreak”.
The authors caution that due to the way they recruited subjects, their findings are not nationally representative. Still, the findings offer valuable insight into the types of people who are most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Policymakers and mental health professionals might prioritize giving help to those who have stopped working and those who have chronic health issues.
The study, “Unprecedented disruption of lives and work: Health, distress and life satisfaction of working adults in China one month into the COVID-19 outbreak”, was authored by Stephen X Zhang, Yifei Wang, Andreas Rauch, and Feng Wei.