Jun 8, 2022
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Study finds link between COVID-19 and worsening mental health

Study finds link between COVID-19 and worsening mental health

The past two years have sparked widespread upheaval, anxiety, loss and grief around the world, but a new study from the University of Otago Christchurch has found a worrying link between continued COVID-19 upheaval and worsening mental health for those at risk.

An international study involving hundreds of New Zealanders has sparked a call for increased public awareness of the impact of COVID-19 on mood and for taking the issue more seriously.

Researcher from the New Zealand part of the international study, Professor Richard Porter, Chair of the Department of Psychological Medicine, says that among study participants who were previously diagnosed with a mood disorder, almost 40% reported having moderate or severe depression during the first lockdown period Aotearoa New Zealand in 2020.

“While we expected changes in the circadian rhythm to negatively affect the mood of these participants, we were surprised at how severe the self-reported symptoms were. Our results suggest that there is a definite association between COVID-related circadian rhythm disruption and worsening mental health in people with pre-existing affective disorders, namely depression and bipolar disorder”

The questionnaire study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, was conducted from April to June 2020 and included much of New Zealand’s first Level 4 localization. It was conducted by researchers from six different countries – New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Canada, USA and Holland. Over half (521) of the 997 participants were from New Zealand. Fifty percent of the total cohort was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, fifty percent with depression.

According to Professor Porter, while only 12% of participants reported minimally depressive feelings caused by COVID-19 disruption of circadian rhythms, 20% reported having mild depression; 27% – moderate depression; 21% moderate to severe depression and 18% severe depression.

“The fact that almost 40% of these already vulnerable people reported their symptoms as moderate or severe is worrying.”

Psychotherapy is used to regulate social and circadian rhythms: participants record the times of meals, social interactions, sleep and wakefulness in order to better organize and streamline their activities and maintain circadian patterns. Light therapy is also being tried, as is the use of blue-blocking glasses at bedtime to suppress melatonin secretion.

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