Psychological consequences of the pandemic: Depression and anxiety increase

Without the usual lively hustle and bustle, the inner cities appear dreary, like here in Frankfurt.
Photo: Finn Winkler

The pandemic is putting a strain on people’s psyche. Researchers and doctors strive to determine the extent of the emotional consequences and to help those affected. Now a new lockdown threatens – that makes the situation worse.

EIt’s going to be another winter. Death numbers and corona incidences dominate the headlines again, politicians are pushing for contact restrictions – the next lockdown is imminent. The little confidence gained in the summer is waning. Fear is spreading, of being infected, of the uncertain future – and loneliness. It is clear to everyone: The almost two-year ups and downs will strain your nerves. But how exactly does the pandemic affect our psyche? Mental pain is more difficult to measure than infection numbers. Especially in the general population, when people did not seek treatment in psychiatric clinics or have reported sick with their health insurance company because of depression. In order to determine the psychological consequences of the pandemic, researchers are choosing very different paths.

Johanna Kuroczik

Editor in the “Science” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The economist Valentin Klotzbücher from the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg didn’t really have much to do with psychology in his professional life. Last week a study in which he was involved was published in the journal “Nature”; the research team had understood the psychological burden of the pandemic by calling the helpline. They came up with the idea by chance, says Klotzbücher. In the spring of 2020, a noticeably large number of people had searched Google for the “number against sorrow”. The scientists then contacted more than a hundred telephone advice centers around the world. In total, they were able to analyze around 8 million calls in 19 countries. The picture is the same from Hong Kong to Beirut: Many more people than usual picked up the phone in desperation; six weeks after the first outbreaks, the number of calls rose at times by 35 percent. In spring 2020, fears dominated the talks, especially about the virus. “We find an increase above all in calls about fear and loneliness, and later also about physical health,” says Klotzbücher. “It seems to be more acute pandemic concerns that explain the majority of the additional calls.” And that displaced other concerns: Relationship disputes, violence and thoughts of suicide were relatively less frequently discussed. But that doesn’t mean that everyone at risk of suicide would report there. However, there is scientific evidence that suicide-related calls do correlate with the actual suicide rate.

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