Mental health in individuals with severe mental disorders during the covid-19 pandemic: a longitudinal investigation

Schizophrenia (Heidelb). 2022 Mar 8;8(1):17. doi: 10.1038/s41537-022-00225-z.


Research on the long-term mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across mental disorders is limited, and information on the impact of public health policy measures with varying strictness is missing. This study therefore aimed at investigating psychological distress among residents of Tyrol (Austria) and South Tyrol (Italy) at the early stages of the pandemic and 5 months thereafter and examined how sociodemographic, protective, and risk factors relate to change over time. One hundred and fifteen people with severe mental illness (SMI; schizophrenia spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder with psychotic features) or major depressive disorder without psychotic features (MDD) and 481 community controls without mental disorders participated in an online survey. Next to the collection of sociodemographic and COVID-19 related variables, the Brief Symptom Checklist, the Resilience Scale, the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, the Three-Item Loneliness Scale, and the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale-Short Form were used to assess psychological distress, resilience, perceived social support, loneliness, and boredom. Levels of psychological symptoms and the prevalence of psychological distress were significantly higher in individuals with MDD compared to the other two groups, and Italian participants were more prone to anxiety than those from Austria. Psychological distress was predicted by a lower degree of both resilience and perceived social support as well as loneliness and boredom. Notably, the prevalence of clinically relevant psychological symptoms remained unchanged among each group over time. These results underscore the relevance of tailored prevention and mitigation strategies to meet the specific needs of people both with and without mental disorders.