" Abstract Aims. Billions of individuals have been confined to their homes as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. This kind of exposure of the population to social distancing is unusual in its scale and in its potential effects on social and mental health. The main aim of this paper, accordingly, is to investigate the effects of confinement on the social and mental health of individuals during the first days of confinement. First, we compared the prevalence of psychological distress before and at the beginning of the confinement period. Then, we assessed three groups of risk factors for psychological distress: changes in social activities and support, exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic, and changes in occupational status. Methods. An online survey was distributed to the general population in Belgium three days after the beginning of the confinement period. 20,792 respondents participated in the survey. The prevalence of psychological distress was measured using the GHQ-12 scale. Social activities and support were assessed using the Social Participation Measure, the Short Loneliness Scale, and the Oslo Social Support Scale. An index of subjective exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic was constructed, as well as a measure of change in occupational status. Measurements were compared to the results of the health population survey that was conducted in Belgium by Sciensano in 2018. All analyses were stratified by age and gender group and the European Standard Population (15+) distribution was used as reference. Results. 52.8% of the respondents reported psychological distress, compared to 18.3% in the 2018 Belgian health population survey. After accounting for selection bias, this translates into a 2.3 fold increase in psychological distress (95% CI: 2.16-2.45). For each additional confinement day, the risk of psychological distress increased by 1%. Women and younger age groups were more at risk than men and older age groups respectively. Respondents directly or indirectly exposed to COVID-19 were at greater risk of psychological distress. Respondents exposed to change in their occupational status or social activities and respondents with less social support were more likely to display psychological distress. Conclusions. Confinement has major and detrimental effects on social and mental health. Limiting the effects of confinement on those groups identified as at greater risk, such as women, young people, and those with changes in their work and social support, should receive more attention. Mitigating the social and occupational impact of confinement might be an effective strategy to cope with long confinement periods. "
Funding: Fondation Roi Baudouin
Publication References: submitted to PlosONE
Vincent Lorant, Professor