COVID mental health study laughably flawed
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‘Mental-health crisis from COVID pandemic was minimal” blared a BBC headline on an article that opened with, “People’s general mental health and anxiety symptoms hardly deteriorated at all during the pandemic, research suggests.“
Allow me: Hahahahahahaha. Hahahaha. Ha.
The BBC was reporting on a review in the BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical trade journal published by the British Medical Association, in which Canadian researchers from McGill, as well as the Universities of Ottawa and Toronto, looked at 137 studies, mostly from — brace yourselves — “high-income European and Asian countries.” Conclusion: we were all pretty resilient, actually! (I’m paraphrasing.)
It was this paragraph, however, that leapt off the screen. “The review did not look at lower-income countries, or specifically focus on children, young people and those with existing problems, the groups most likely affected, experts say, and risks hiding important effects among disadvantaged groups.”
Understandably, people were absolutely dragging this study on Twitter, many sharing their best “I’m Fine, This Is Fine!” coping mechanisms developed during the pandemic. One woman made a tiny art museum for her hamster. Another bought 150 rubber duckies and, at one point, had a wedding for two of them. Another shared a photo of a baby being baptised via a water gun.
Now, I would argue these hilarious examples are actually examples of the creativity that can bloom when you actually have time to access that part of your brain. But the point is, the pandemic affected, rewired and, in some cases, broke our brains — and not necessarily in ways that result in rubber ducky nuptials.
A lot of people have suffered greatly over the past three years. Many people got sick and died; many people are still dealing with long COVID. Frontline workers experienced career-cratering burnout and PTSD; parents, same.
Even if your life was somehow untouched by illness or death, the isolation, loneliness, anxiety and uncertainty of a global pandemic aren’t ideal mental wellness conditions, especially if you’re young, poor or previously struggling.
If there’s one positive upshot, however, it’s that more people were actually talking about — and making moves to address — their mental health, even if it was just via sharing memes. More value was placed on the importance of mental wellness (protecting it, taking care of it). I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much discourse around burnout as I have over the past three years.
And for a section of people, the pandemic — or, more accurately, the pause it afforded — allowed people to identify stressors and triggers in their “normal” lives. They were able to finally access formal diagnoses. There was some solidarity baked into the pandemic; this was something we were all going through, which made it feel less isolating. (Until, of course, it became divisive and isolating.)
This week marked the third anniversary of the pandemic. We’re only just beginning to look at its effect on our brains, let alone understand it. In order to do that, we need to look at the people it harmed most.
This column first appeared in Jen Zoratti’s newsletter, Next, a weekly look at a post-pandemic future. Sign up at wfp.to/jennext
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.