University of São Paulo: Women were more emotionally affected by the pandemic

THEpandemic impacted the mental health and behavioral aspects of Brazilians. A study carried out between May and June 2020 with men and women from various regions of the country (26 Brazilian states and the Federal District) showed that a large number of people had symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress during the pandemic. There was also a higher consumption of illicit drugs, cigarettes, medicines and food. The most emotionally affected were women, accounting for 40.5% of symptoms of depression, 34.9% of anxiety and 37.3% of stress. The survey heard three thousand volunteers and was conducted by the team of neuropsychologist Antônio de Pádua Serafim, from the Institute of Psychiatry (IPq) at Hospital das Clínicas (HC), USP Medical School (FMUSP).

The team of neuropsychologist Antônio de Pádua Serafim, from IPq / HC / FM, conducted the research – Photo: personal file of the researcher

“Although the research did not detail the reasons that led women to experience greater psychological distress, the medical literature has shown that they are the ones that have the greatest impact due to the social conditions in which they live. The pandemic only made this situation worse, ”says the neuropsychologist. They follow a double shift, monitor their children’s school development and, in the pandemic, more people stayed indoors, in addition to concerns related to the virus itself (imminent contamination, need to change hygiene habits, reduce social life, sick family members) , etc.). “All of these circumstances create stress and can trigger mental illnesses,” explains Professor Pádua Serafim. The research result was published on February 3 in Plos One under the titleExploratory study on the psychological impact f covid-19 on the general Brazilian population .

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In addition to the profile of a multitasking woman who reconciles domestic work and professional life, the research brought an interesting finding that reveals another side of the gender issue. Psychic suffering also affected those who lived alone and had no children. The highest levels of stress, depression and anxiety were reported by women in these conditions, a situation that, according to the study, was probably associated with other variables considered by the research and that could be contributing to the illness of the interviewees: many of them were unemployed, had history of chronic diseases (25.9%) and reported having had contact with people diagnosed with covid-19 (35.2%).

One of the hypotheses raised by the researcher was that the pandemic left this group more vulnerable to a state of lack of perspectives and uncertainties about the future, which would have caused more feelings of discomfort, anguish, anxiety and helplessness.

Adaptive capacity to stressful situations
According to the researcher, the exploratory study aimed to investigate the ability of people in the pandemic to cope and how they would adjust to pressure situations. “In a pandemic, as we are living, people tend to be more susceptible to physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional changes, which could have a direct impact on their mental health,” he says.

The survey covered the period from May 22 to June 5, 2020 and used a questionnaire through the Google Forms platform, with sociodemographic information (age, marital status, number of children, education, number of people living in the residence, etc.), and on the general health conditions of the participants (on the contagion of the covid-19, the death of relatives or friends and the behavior in face of the demands generated by the pandemic). The assessment of psychological symptoms was performed using a scale called DASS-21, which makes it possible to verify the prevalence of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

Consumption of alcohol or at least one type of drug as evidenced in the research may worsen in the post-pandemic – Photo: Marcos Santos / USP Images
Higher consumption of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and food
Of the 3 thousand people who answered the questionnaire, 83% were women, married (50.6%), had university education (70.1%) and were employed (46%). Of the general group, including men and women, 6.4% contracted the virus and 22.7% had friends or relatives who had died from the disease. Regarding behavioral data, 40.8% had a higher consumption of illicit drugs, cigarettes, medicines and food, and almost half of the participants expressed having symptoms of depression (46.4%), anxiety (39.7%) and stress (42.2%).

In the assessment of the neuropsychologist, the result demonstrated that people did not have positive and adaptive responses to the pandemic, which means that the problems evidenced by the research (clinical conditions) may worsen and persist in the post-pandemic. As for the existence of a group more vulnerable to situations of high stress load (in the case of women), the recommendation is that there is greater attention from the mental health system for this most vulnerable group during and after the pandemic.

Behavioral coping strategies
According to the study, stress coping strategies are resources used by people when faced with a problem, and they can be positive or negative. The results presented by the research indicate that the behaviors adopted by the participants in the pandemic were negative and avoidance-avoidance. They started to consume more food and abused drugs, tobacco and medicines. “Such strategies, generally, involve people who imagine possible solutions to a problem, without, however, taking measures to change it”, he reports.

Professor Pádua Serafim points out that these findings are preliminary, portray a moment lived by Brazilians and understand that the magnitude of the impacts on mental health will only be better known with continuous studies after the total relaxation of the quarantine. However, he says that research that addresses behavioral signs related to anxiety, depression and stress associated with covid-19 raises an important alarm for public health services, which need to be prepared for the increased demand and urgency in the treatment of new cases of mental illness, he concludes.

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