Mental Health. After the Covid, “some loopholes cannot be closed”

After difficult months, not everyone is smiling again. According to a study published on Saturday in The Lancet, cases of depression and anxiety increased by more than a quarter worldwide in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And in 2021, the mental health of the French remains degraded.

According to the latest part of the CoviPrev survey carried out by Public Health France at the start of the school year, 15% of French people show signs of a depressive state, 23% describe an anxious state and 63% declare sleep problems during the last 8 days. According to another study, conducted this time by Unafam (National Union of Families and Friends of Sick and / or Psychically Handicapped People) and the Pierre Deniker Foundation, more than one in ten French people (14%) admit have had thoughts of suicide in the past. A figure that climbs to 30% among 18-24 year olds.

Population shocks

For Jocelyn Raude, teacher-researcher in social psychology at EHESP (School of Advanced Studies in Public Health), this phenomenon is unfortunately not surprising: “The decrease in social contact favors mental health problems. at the end of the 19th century, Émile Durkheim was already showing that loneliness increased the risk of suicide “.

However, during the various confinements, the rates of anxiety and depressive episodes declared were “much higher than previous surveys”, notes Jocelyn Raude. In 2017, 13.5% of people questioned as part of the French Public Health Barometer (BSpF) declared to suffer from anxiety, 9.8% from depression and 49.4% from sleep disorders. Figures that have increased by more than ten points during confinement (see graph below).

The authors of the study published in The Lancet recall, moreover, that population shocks (in other words, unexpected events that disrupt environmental, health, economic or social circumstances within a population) “can increase the prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders”. This was, for example, the case with the 2008 financial crisis in Hong Kong or that of 2009 in Greece.

Women and young people particularly concerned

In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is women and the youngest who have been most affected by mental health problems. “Women have seen their mental health explode due to a still inequitable distribution of household tasks”, analyzes Jocelyn Raude. Young people were “less used than the elderly to live with little social contact”, continues the scientist. Added to this were “insecurities” linked to entry into the labor market or to environmental issues, notes Patrick-Ange Raoult.

During confinement, “people with a second home, a garden or a large apartment experienced this period much better than those who lived together in a small home,” recalls Jocelyn Raude. Since the reduction in health measures, depressive states have generally decreased. On the other hand, sleep problems and anxiety increased at the start of the school year.

The end of a taboo

“Initially, the main driver of anxiety was the fear of infection and death. Gradually, it is the socio-economic effects of restrictions that took over,” says Jocelyn Raude. With the economic recovery announced, the face-to-face return and less media coverage of the pandemic, it is “likely that anxiety will be much less than before” in future surveys, says the researcher.

“We can assume that a return to normal will alleviate situations of suffering”, supports Patrick-Ange Raoult. “But for some, the pandemic has opened loopholes that they are unable to close,” worries the secretary general of the SNP. According to him, the health crisis has had at least one advantage: mental health problems are no longer taboo and “the French are more comfortable going to a shrink without fear of being stigmatized”.

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