‘Covid has taken severe toll on our mental health’, says study

South Africa was one of the lowest scoring countries with regards to mental health

SA joined the UK in scoring the lowest in a study examining the mental well-being of over 49,000 people in eight English-speaking countries.

The study, released by Sapien Labs as part of the Mental Health Million Project, made use of an online assessment called the Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) which scores mental well-being on a scale from -100 to 200, based on a wide range of factors.

SA’s average MHQ was 56 (‘Managing’), only slightly above the UK’s score of 54.

Overall, 26% of respondents were at risk of clinical-level challenges, with SA having the highest proportion per country at 8%.

26% of respondents were at risk of clinical-level challenges, with SA having the highest proportion per country at 8%.

SA had the lowest psychiatrist/population ratio, with only 0.3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. The second-lowest was India, with 1.5 psychiatrists per 100,000.

There was also a noticeable difference between the responses from male, female and non-binary/third-gender respondents.

According to the study, female respondents had a slightly lower MHQ score compared to male respondents, although their scores were a slight improvement from the 2019 assessment.

Women were shown to suffer more from experiences of pain as well as fear and anxiety, while men had greater problems with addiction and empathy.

Non-binary/third-gender respondents had considerably lower MHQ scores when compared to male and female respondents, on average scoring 50 points lower. These respondents had more trouble with suicidal thoughts, social self and motivation.

Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic was cited as having the biggest impact on collective mental health in 2020, with SA reporting the greatest decline.

The study suggested that the trauma caused by the pandemic could have long-lasting consequences for years.

“We have often heard the saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger with some studies showing evidence of a benefit of modest adversity in enhancing resilience,” the authors said.

“However, in this data, mental well-being scores declined systematically with the experience of more adversities and traumas over the lifetime, consistent with other reports.

“One might consider the analogy to physical injury where repeated injuries over a lifetime from broken bones to muscle tears might heal but leave the body physically compromised and less capable than before the injury.”

One might consider the analogy to physical injury where repeated injuries over a lifetime from broken bones to muscle tears might heal but leave the body physically compromised and less capable than before the injury

In addition to the increased stress brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the study also laid out key lifestyle factors that impact mental well-being.

For example, respondents who always had a good night’s sleep scored on average 82 points higher than those who didn’t, while respondents who regularly socialised with friends and family scored 66 points higher than those who were more isolated.

Regular exercisers scored 46 points higher than people who rarely or never exercised.

Once again, SA scored the lowest in this regard.

However, the authors acknowledged that these three lifestyle factors are interlinked and often affect one another. They also pointed out that they are often not always in our control.

Because of this, they called for more research into the matter and cautioned that the best solutions may not be individual in nature.

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