There are countless numbers and statistics that exist surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on the physical health. However, more research is needed on the impacts coronavirus has on people’s mental health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed people’s lives so drastically that it is difficult to know how protracted the effects may be,” says Dr Susanne Schweizer from UNSW’s School of Psychology.
A global team led by psychologists at UNSW Sydney will be exploring for the first time what they describe as this pandemic’s toxic combination of two extreme psychological stressors: existential threat and social isolation.
The study invites participants in Australia, the UK and US to evaluate their mood before and after the onset of the pandemic, and to track their cognitive function and social networks, over the coming months.
It hopes to enlist more than 3000 participants over the next six months, with people as young as 11 and beyond the age of 65 able to participate online.
There is a special focus on two subgroups thought to be especially vulnerable to the shock of enforced isolation: adolescents and pregnant women.
Dr Schweizer and her colleagues are concerned that the longer-term effects of social isolation in this group may come at a cost to their cognitive development due to schools being closed as they are in the US and UK, or drastically changed as in the case of Australia.
“There has been such a disruption in their natural social interactions that they’re not able to engage in social relationships that are so key at this point in their development,” says Dr Schweizer.
What does the study involve?
Initially participants will be asked to complete an hour-long survey – online in a laptop or smartphone browser – to assess mood before and after the pandemic. They will be asked to evaluate their connections to people in their social network and will also be invited to complete tasks that assess working memory – the ability to store information in memory for short amounts of time. As incentive, participants have a chance to win a $100 Amazon voucher that will be awarded to every 100th person to complete the survey.
After three months – and then again after six – participants will again be asked to fill in a shorter survey to track progress in mood, cognitive function and social network.
“We hope that by the end of the study, we will have reliable and accurate data, so that we can qualify the longer-term effects of this pandemic. The unprecedented nature of it requires rapid and collaborative responses, and by working together with other research teams at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Oregon and Pittsburgh in the US, we are able ask these questions across different populations,” says Dr Schweizer.
To find out more about the study, click here.