COVID-19 pandemic, government responses, and public mental health: Investigating consequences through crisis hotline calls in two countries

Soc Sci Med. 2020 Nov:265:113532. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113532. Epub 2020 Nov 18.


Rationale: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is an immense global health threat that has invoked unheard-of containment measures in numerous countries to reduce the number of new infections.

Objective: The sequential introduction of severe measures, intentionally aiming at reducing the number of new infections, also imposes sharp restrictions on populations with potentially unintended, detrimental effects on public mental health.

Method: We used observational data reflecting the number of phone calls made to national crisis hotlines in Austria and Germany during the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020-April 2020) to investigate the impact of government restrictions as well as their later revocations on public mental health. Importantly, both countries have comparable health care systems, are similar in their political and socio-economic idiosyncrasies, and took similar restrictive government measures in order to contain COVID-19-but implemented them at different points in time.

Results: Analysis indicated that the number of crisis hotline calls increased in both countries. This increase seemed to occur at around the same time as the implementation of restrictive governmental responses. Importantly, the revocation of these governmental restrictions (i.e., re-opening the economy, allowing more social contact) seemed to occur at around the same time as the decrease in the number of calls.

Conclusions: The present study supports the notion that the implementation of severe measures affects public mental health. However, the negative mental health effects of COVID-19 may be reduced if severe governmental restrictions are kept in place as briefly as possible.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Crisis hotline calls; Government responses; Public mental health; SARS.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Austria / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Communicable Disease Control / statistics & numerical data*
  • Communicable Diseases
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Government*
  • Hotlines / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2