UW study looks at the long-term mental health toll of lockdowns

Jun 21, 2020, 8:07 AM

Unemployment, coronavirus, Pierce County...

A nurse checks-in via phone with a patient self-quarantined at home. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

UW psychologist Jonathan Kanter is studying how the stay-at-home order during coronavirus has been impacting people’s mental health, using surveys for people to rate how they’re feeling. How have people been faring? He joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“Every evening they take a brief survey on their cellphones, letting us know how they’re feeling, how depressed they are, anxious they are, lonely, how they’re doing in their relationships…”

Considering that another lockdown could occur, what has he learned from the study?

“We can say most people in King County have shown remarkable strength and resilience. Anxiety and depression peaked very early on in this pandemic, and we’ve seen a gradual decline in anxiety and depression across the whole sample. So people are coping pretty well on average,” he said.

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“The people we’re most concerned about are the essential workers and crisis responders who are out there on the front lines of this crisis. They are under an incredible amount of day to day stress and trauma and all sorts of psychological burdens are being placed on them.”

Kanter says he’s also concerned for those who have experienced loss as a result of coronavirus, especially because of how complicated it is to grieve during these times.

“Even though this is a horrible crisis, most of us are not in touch personally with the real death and despair associated with the crisis, but some of us are. People who have suffered direct losses and dealing with grief and that level of loss, they’re a big worry for us, too.”

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“We know that grief is hard during normal times, now grief is immensely complicated by the inability to grieve together, the inability to have funerals, and other really important rituals, and our hearts just break for those people.”

The economic devastation caused by the lockdowns is taking a harsh toll on people’s mental health, with many seeing an extreme level of financial strain and not a clear path out of it in the immediate future.

“Some of us may be struggling with losses in the stock market or other financial losses, but we’re still relatively okay. For the people losing jobs and losing financial resources right now such that they’re really struggling to make ends meet … these are real problems that are increasing exponentially in society and that is going to predict a lot of depression if this builds up over time.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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UW study looks at the long-term mental health toll of lockdowns