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What are the psychological effects of COVID-19?

Text updated on 2020-05-20

Social isolation and the new organisation of work are sources of anxiety for the highly social beings that we are: social exchanges and contacts are essential for our well-being! In this time of epidemic, we can continue to interact in a safe way: let's promote hugs with people in our home but stay at a distance and protected with people outside.

The situation related to COVID-19 is a source of stress for several reasons: being sick or having sick relatives, losing a job and having financial difficulties, or fearing that these events will happen, facing uncertainty due to lack of information, contradictory or inaccurate information from authorities or the media.

Confinement restricts social interaction, exchanges with family, friends, and colleagues, as well as physical contact.

Anxiety can lead to sleep problems and increase problems with alcohol or tobacco addiction that pre-exist the confinement.

The pandemic and its consequences may have stirred up many emotions and feelings, such as astonishment, fear, anger, frustration, resignation, but also acceptance and optimism. It is quite normal to feel one or more of these emotions at this time!

This situation also has social consequences. At the family level, even though men and women are often confined and therefore present in the home, this has not helped to reduce the inequalities present in the domestic sphere. Women are more often involved in household tasks (meals, shopping, housework) and educational tasks (home schooling, homework, liaising with teachers) than men, which increases their mental load and makes them more vulnerable to stress.

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A survey carried out in France on the first two weeks of confinement on 1,005 people

Presence of sleep disorders in three out of four adults and signs of psychological distress in more than one out of three French people.

This survey, carried out mainly in the 27 countries of the European Union, includes 75,570 individuals and tests the psychological effects of COVID-19 and containment on the population. The level of stress reported by the population remains moderate. The most important factors of stress are: the national economy, the risk of being hospitalized or dying, the risk of being affected by the COVID-19 and not knowing how long the confinement will last.

Travaglino, G.A., Lieberoth, A., Tran T., Cepulic D., Kowa,M. Coll-Martín, T., Reyna, C., Vestergren, S.& The COVID-Stress International Collaboration (2020), How is COVID 19 affecting Europeans' Lives? Report of the COVID-STRESS global survey.

A survey conducted in Italy among 18,147 people shows that after 3 to 4 weeks of confinement more than 80% of individuals show symptoms of stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia, with women and young people being more affected.

Rossi, R, Socci, V, Talevi, D, Mensi, S, Niolu, C, Pacitti, F, Marco, A, Rossi, A, Siracusano, A, Di Lorenzo, G. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures impact on mental health among the general population in Italy. An N=18,147 web-based survey.

Humans are ultra-social beings. In the course of evolution, a unique form of sociability has emerged in humans that partly explains the specificity of human cognition and morality.

Tomasello, M. (2014). The ultra-social animal. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 44: 187-194. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2015

Touch and physical contact are essential for human well-being, both for the cognitive and socio-emotional development of children and for the psychological and physical well-being of adults. Stimulation by touch of receptors on the skin activates areas of the brain involved in the reward and social pleasure circuit. Touch and physical contact strengthen the emotional bonds between humans and in this sense the skin is considered a sensory but also a social organ. Lack of stimulation of these receptors can lead to lack and discomfort.

Jakubiak BK, Feeney BC. 2016. Affectionate touch to promote relational, psychological, and physical well-being in adulthood: a theoretical model and review of the research. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 21, 228-252. (10.1177/1088868316650307)

The closure of schools due to containment weighs more heavily on women than on men. On average, women teleworking take care of children and their education 1.5 hours more per day than men teleworking. Confinement has increased the disparities that existed prior to confinement.

Hupkau, C, and Petrongolo, B (2020). Work, care and gender during the Covid-19 crisis, Paper No' CEPCOVID-19-002: Preprint CEP Covid-19 Analysis.

A survey carried out in France on 1025 people shows that during confinement 59% of women consider that they spend more time than their spouses on household chores or childcare, while 25% of men consider that they spend more time than their spouses on these tasks.

Lévy, JD., Potereau, J., Prunier, A., (2020), L'impact du confinement sur les inégalités femmes/hommes. Harris Interactive in France for the State Secretariat for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination.

Reports of intra-family violence have increased by a third since the beginning of the confinement in France. Such violence is a risk factor for the presence of mental pathologies.

In France, if you are a victim or if you are aware of a situation of child abuse, please call 119. If you are a victim or if you are aware of a situation of violence against a woman, please call 3919.

Further reading

How best to live during the containment and pandemic of COVID-19?

What are the physical effects of confinement and social distancing?