After the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, Italy became the epicenter of this deadly pandemic. After two cases were confirmed on January 31, 2020, the Italian government suspended flights to and from China, and declared a national emergency. By March 9, with almost 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, a national lockdown and stay-at-home order was enacted. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed the decree titled, ‘I stay at home’, which prohibited all gatherings and commercial activities, and outlined the limited reasons for which people could leave their homes. The national lockdown, with the exception of some retail and business activities, was in place until May 3, 2020.
While various virus control measures – such as social distancing measures, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine policies – are an important part of containing the spread and impact of COVID-19, the implications of these measures are far reaching. A study that surveyed over 18,000 individuals in Italy found that there were “ high rates of negative mental health outcomes” in the Italian general population.
A major effect of implementing COVID-19 mitigation policies was a significant change in the way individuals worked. The study analyzed the ways in which working more than usual, discontinued work, and smart working (also known as remote work or work from home) during the early stages of the pandemic in Italy impacted individuals’ mental health. The research found that if an individual who was now working more than usual due to COVID-19, their chances of experiencing post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) increased by 42%, and their chances of (perceived) stress increased by 71%. Furthermore, working more than usual due to COVID-19 increased an individual’s chances of experiencing adjustment disorder symptoms (ADS) by 39%.
For individuals whose work was discontinued due to COVID-19, their odds of experiencing PTSS and stress increased by 15% and 19%, respectively. Furthermore, individuals’ odds of experiencing depression increased by 40%, anxiety increased by 16%, and insomnia increased by 22% when their work was discontinued due to COVID-19. The research found that there was no statistical relationship between smart working and PTSS, stress, ADS, depression, anxiety, or insomnia.
Another important COVID-19 mitigation policy is quarantining individuals when they are either exposed to the virus or have tested positive for the virus. However, this policy can have serious mental health ramifications. If an individual is in quarantine, their odds of experiencing PTSS increase by 74% and their odds of experiencing anxiety increase by 52%. Perhaps the most startling finding from the data is that for individuals in quarantine, their odds of experiencing ADS increase by 128%.
This data shows us that the virus control measures in Italy – such as changes to working environments and quarantine policies – had a significant impact on the mental health of the general population. These findings necessitate further research into COVID-19 mitigation policies and their impact on mental health: not just in Italy, but around the world.