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COVID-19 pandemic, government responses, and public mental health: Investigating consequences through crisis hotline calls in two countries

Highlights•The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is a severe global health threat.•Severe government responses may have negatively impacted public mental health.•We used the number of crisis hotline calls as an indicator for public mental health.•The number of calls increased at around the same time as government responses.•Revoking severe measures occurred at around the same time as the decrease in calls.AbstractRationaleThe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is an immense global health threat that has invoked unheard-of containment measures in numerous countries to reduce the number of new infections.ObjectiveThe sequential introduction of severe measures, intentionally aiming at reducing the number of new infections, also imposes sharp restrictions on populations with potentially unintended, detrimental effects on public mental health.MethodWe used observational data reflecting the number of phone calls made to national crisis hotlines in Austria and Germany during the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020–April 2020) to investigate the impact of government restrictions as well as their later revocations on public mental health. Importantly, both countries have comparable health care systems, are similar in their political and socio-economic idiosyncrasies, and took similar restrictive government measures in order to contain COVID-19—but implemented them at different points in time.ResultsAnalysis indicated that the number of crisis hotline calls increased in both countries. This increase seemed to occur at around the same time as the implementation of restrictive governmental responses. Importantly, the revocation of these governmental restrictions (i.e., re-opening the economy, allowing more social contact) seemed to occur at around the same time as the decrease in the number of calls.ConclusionsThe present study supports the notion that the implementation of severe measures affects public mental health. However, the negative mental health effects of COVID-19 may be reduced if severe governmental restrictions are kept in place as briefly as possible.

پاندمی COVID۱۹، پاسخ‌های دولت و سلامت روانی عمومی: بررسی عواقب آن از طریق تماس تلفنی با بحران در دو کشور

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