Israeli study shows mental-health cost of repeated COVID lockdowns

This is the first study to measure mental health before and after a second lockdown.

By Naama Barak, Israel21c

Lockdowns, as we in Israel have learned, do a good job preventing the spread of Covid. But as many of us have personally experienced, they also have quite an impact on our mental health – especially when we go through them for a second time.

A first-of-its-kind study recently published by researchers from Ariel University and the University of Warwick in BMJ Open looked into how the second lockdown in Israel, which took place in the fall of last year, affected the trajectory of anxiety and adjustment disorder among more than 100,000 Israeli adults.

The researchers divided respondents into four categories: people whose mental health didn’t change or only slightly changed following lockdown; people at higher risk for anxiety and depression before and after lockdown; people whose mental health deteriorated following lockdown; and people whose mental health improved after lockdown.

When they investigated the link between these groups and somatization (physical symptoms of psychological distress), they discovered that all but the first group exhibited significant vulnerability to somatization — even the “recovery group” those who reported that their mental health improved after lockdown.

This is the first study to measure mental health before and after a second lockdown.

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“The study has two major contributions,” notes Ariel University’s Prof. Menachem Ben-Ezra, who led the study.

“First, strengthening the claim that a lockdown is a double-edged sword. Lockdown prevents mass spreading of the infection at the expense of mental health,” he said.

“Second, the presentation of somatic symptoms may mask psychological vulnerabilities, namely anxiety and adjustment disorder, even among those who appear to have recovered from the stressor. This indicates that lockdown should be carefully administered given these populations’ vulnerabilities.”