Research conducted during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns showed that women, students, and those reporting problems at home had a higher risk of anxiety. In addition, women, students, those having problems at home, people with less help from the outside, and people with a poorer quality of view from their home had a higher risk of depression during lockdowns. The study was published in Brain and Behavior.
In early 2020, the World Health organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2, a global pandemic. In the hope of slowing the spread of the virus, governments throughout the world initiated unprecedented lockdowns, ordering people to stay in their homes, closing schools, theaters, sports stadiums and many other institutions, banning gatherings, and initiating a series of measures aimed at preventing physical contact between people.
This confinement and deprivation of social contact produced negative psychological effects in many people. These included stress, confusion, and anger. Several studies revealed worsening mental health of the adult general population during the pandemic. For example, in China, the country first affected by this virus, almost 30% of the population showed symptoms of anxiety and around 17% show symptoms of depression. These symptoms were more pronounced in students and women.
At this time, one of the studies assessing the changes that the lockdowns brought was the GreenCOVID study conducted in Spain, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Study author Marco Garrido-Cumbrera and his colleagues analyzed data from Spain from this online survey in order to evaluate the risk of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The researchers noticed that anxiety and depression became more prevalent in Spain during the COVID-19 lockdown, but that the level of this change differed across demographics. The aim of their current study was to identify at least some of the factors on which the risk of developing anxiety and depression depended.
Study participants were 2,464 respondents who completed at least 70% of the survey. Most of the participants were female and the average age of the sample was 38 years.
The participants provided data on age, gender, educational level, job status, type of residence they live in, use of outdoor spaces or window views, types of view from home (no view/inner courtyard, streets, open fields/green and blue spaces), views of natural elements from home (yes/no), evaluation of views from home (on a scale 0-10), whether outdoor views help in coping with lockdowns, presence of elements of nature in the home, and whether they have problems at home. Participants also completed an assessment of anxiety and depression (the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale).
Results showed that 58.1% of participants were at risk of anxiety and 32.3% at risk of depression. Most of the participants (72.1%) lived in a flat or apartment, and 82.0% of them had access to outdoor spaces or windows with views of the outdoors. About one-third of them (33.9%) had views of green (nature) or blue (water) spaces. Many of the participants (84.9%) could see natural environments from their home, which helped them deal with the lockdown. On average, they rated their view as 5.6 out of 10. Inside their homes, nearly two-thirds (67.8%) had natural elements, but over 40% (40.6%) had some sort of identifiable problems.
When risks of anxiety and depression were considered, results showed that younger people, women, students, and homemakers had much higher risk of both anxiety and depression. People at risk of anxiety tended to have worse views from home, no views of natural elements from home, reported that the views did not help them during lockdowns, and reported problems at home.
People at risk of depression also tended to not use outdoor spaces and views from windows, did not have views of green and blue spaces, did not have natural elements in their home, reported worse evaluation of views from home, that views did not help them cope with the lockdown, had no natural elements at home, and reported problems at home.
The study provides a valuable scientific contribution to understanding the psychological effects of using lockdowns to tackle epidemics of contagious diseases. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, all factors save anxiety and depression were assessed using a single item per factor, which was often only dichotomous. Due to this, the validity of such answers might be limited. Additionally, the study design does not allow any cause-and-effect conclusions to be made from the results.
The study, “Can Views and Contact with Nature at Home Help Combat Anxiety and Depression during the Pandemic? Results of the GreenCOVID study”, was authored by Marco Garrido-Cumbrera, Alicia González-Marín, José Correa-Fernández, Olta Braçe, and Ronan Foley.