Cognitive and mental health changes and their vulnerability factors related to COVID-19 lockdown in Italy

Eleonora Fiorenzato, Silvia Zabberoni, Alberto Costa, Giorgia Cona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic and government imposed social restrictions like lockdown exposed most individuals to an unprecedented stress, increasing mental health disorders worldwide. We explored subjective cognitive functioning and mental health changes and their possible interplay related to COVID-19-lockdown. We also investigated potential risk factors to identify more vulnerable groups. Across Italy, 1215 respondents completed our Qualtrics-based online-survey during the end of a seven to 10-week imposed lockdown and home confinement (from April 29 to May 17, 2020). We found subjective cognitive functioning and mental health severely changed in association with the lockdown. Under government regulations, cognitive complaints were mostly perceived in routine tasks involving attention, temporal orientation and executive functions—with no changes in language abilities. A paradoxical effect was observed for memory, with reduced forgetfulness compared to pre-lockdown. We found higher severity and prevalence of depression, anxiety disorders, abnormal sleep, appetite changes, reduced libido and health anxiety: with mild-to-severe depression and anxiety prevalence climbing to 32 and 36 percent, respectively, under restrictions. Being female, under 45 years, working from home or being underemployed were all identified as relevant risk factors for worsening cognition and mental health. Frequent consumers of COVID-19 mass media information or residents in highly infected communities reported higher depression and anxiety symptoms, particularly hypochondria in the latter. If similar restrictions are reimposed, governments must carefully consider these more vulnerable groups in their decisions, whilst developing effective global and long-term responses to the cognitive and mental health challenges of this type of pandemic; as well as implementing appropriate psychological interventions with specific guidelines: particularly regarding exposure to COVID-19 mass-media reports.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0246204
JournalPLoS One
Volume16
Issue number1 January
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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