Covid-19 and Subjective Mental Well-Being: Changes Throughout the Crisis

White man with dark brown hair, mustard jumper and face mask rests his head on one hand in despair.

Dr Amy Andrada and Dr Ugur Ozdemir, University of Edinburgh 2022

 

Findings

  • Short-Term: Age Effect, 20-39 year-olds; Gender Effect, women/females; subjective financial pressure/well-being[1]
  • Long-Term: Age Effect, disappears; Gender effect, disappears; subjective financial pressure/well-being, intensifies; social networks, focuses increases

[1] All outcomes experience negative effects

 

Discussion

Recently, Dr. Ugur Ozdemir and I wrote a research paper about subjective mental well-being during COVID-19 in the UK. We discovered that as the pandemic prolonged, initial negative outcomes largely dissipated, while only a couple persisted and/or became prevalent during the timeframe. So, we asked ourselves: why were there changes in subjective mental health at different points during the pandemic? And how did the social context of COVID-19 influence these changes? We framed our understandings based on the premise of the social science query: the relationship between people and structures. As such, it highlighted the contingent reality between individual choices and structural limitations. In short, we considered the implementation of (in)consistent quarantine measures, shifting data on COVID-19 and state responses to these, and how we—as a people—responded to these influences.

Graph of well-being (y-axis) versus Gender (x-axis) before and during Covid-19. The well-being of women worsened during the pandemic whereas the well-being of men inproved.
Figure 1 – Well-being versus gender

In reviewing relevant research, we discovered many articles discussing the ‘Dooms Day’ that is COVID-19 and its subsequent influences upon societies. Yet, there was rarely any mention of our human ability to adapt to the circumstances or to plan our futures. In fact, there wasn’t even a mention of how the situation was temporally managed. Now, we have to admit, as social scientists, ‘Dooms Day’ is an underlining adage of the discipline. And it comes from a principle of examining the uncomfortableness in the world in raw and unforgiving lights (i.e., data). But, that space is also a place where truth and our social reality are found. By confronting our situation’s uncomfortableness—and the context of those conditionswe discovered that our talent as a collective—as a people—is our ability to adapt and meet the tide.

Graph of well-being change (y-axis) versus gender/minority (x-axis). Graph shows that minority groups were impacted more than non minority groups.
Figure 2 – Well-being change versus gender/minority

Not surprisingly, we found many issues with social networks and concerns regarding subjective financial wellbeing (i.e., concerns about “Can I pay the bills?”). These were the most robust issues throughout the pandemic and (understandably) became more influential as the pandemic prolonged. Yet, interestingly, we also found that any initial issues of contending with quarantine dissipated as time wore on. In other words, people got used to quarantining restrictions and adapted. This was accomplished by people prioritising their social connections—with friends, family, and the like. As a result, amazingly, people have reorganised—and thus reprioritised—their worlds to adapt to quarantine measures by refusing to give up on their bonds with others. Thus, the quality of friendship networks seems to have had the most impact among the population. Women also altered their lives to prioritise their families (see figures), and in doing so, many of the stressors they experienced at the beginning of the pandemic subsided due to re-organising/re-prioritising family and relationship goals—while simultaneously men/partners witnessing the restrictions and overwhelmingness of family and household life. And finally, as a people, we all have learned to value our elders—understanding how limited our time may be with them. [Readers interested in elaboration of the results in Figures 1 and 2 can check out the full article: COVID 19 and subjective mental well-being: Changes throughout the crisis]

 

Although, we acknowledge there is a larger concern regarding which groups adapted more than others and the social burden of the unevenness of that distribution across the population (i.e., overwhelmingly women, young people, etc.). Yet, collectively, we learned people’s focuses regarding subjective mental health during these dire times boiled down to two things: ‘Can I provide for myself/family needs (i.e., economic)’ and ‘Are there people I care for and/or care for me?’ Simple, really. And incredibly human when you think about it. When we are cut off from the larger social world, we realise how small our own really are—and how utterly connected we are to everyone and everything around us.

 

In our view, the pandemic has highlighted the truths social scientists are keenly aware of: how our lives are inextricably interconnected to each other, how the conditions of our lives are informed by the social structures around us (i.e., economy, family, politics, government, etc.), and invariably our ability to (re)direct that relationship is dependent on our awareness of that relationship and our ability to adapt and/or demand its change. Regarding the latter, though we have all have adapted to the ‘Time of COVID-19,’ the demands of the state and our institutions have still yet to be determined by us. Therefore, it is our hope readers use this information as an incentive to investigate the social world around them, understand its interconnections, take solace in their adaptive responsiveness, but more importantly (re)direct their needs to the very institutions originally designed to serve them—instead of internalising these shortcomings as only their owns (i.e., neoliberalism). As a result, this may help alleviate many of the concerns identified in our research.

 

Until then… continue being kind to one another and yourselves. But more importantly, demand your institutions to work for you—rather than you for it.

 

Dr Amy Andrada is a Research Associate in Health and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh and continues to lecture at various universities and colleges both nationally and internationally. A recent PhD graduate from the University of Edinburgh, she holds an M.A. in Sociology, an M.A. in English Literature, and a B.A. in Sociology and English Literature from California State University. Her research focuses on gender, deviance, and family studies, and she is currently developing a trade book based on her PhD research. She spends her time between Edinburgh and Los Angeles with her family.

 

Dr Ugur Ozdemir is a Lecturer in Quantitative Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. He has previously taught at the University of Rochester and Istanbul Bilgi University. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, MSc in Economics from Istanbul Bilgi University, and a BSc in Industrial Engineering from Boğaziçi University. His research focuses on comparative political behaviour using quantitative methods and game-theoretical models. He is currently working on explaining the support for populist and authoritarian regimes and affective polarization in divided societies.

 

Photo by Heike Trautmann on Unsplash

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