How the Pandemic has Affected Mental Health in South-East Asia
The COVID-19 pandemic has left its imprint on every corner of the world. To understand its psychosocial impact, a study led by scientists from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) compared the psychological distress and protection behaviors between Taiwanese healthcare workers and outpatients and a sample of the general populace in Hong Kong. They found that the Hong Kong population had greater fear of COVID-19, among other findings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected global economy, trade, and commerce deeply but has also taken a toll on the physical and mental health of people. The enforcement of lockdowns necessary to control disease spread during the pandemic have largely altered people’s lifestyle and social behaviors. This has been linked to psychosocial distress. Healthcare workers, who have been at the frontline throughout the pandemic, have been particularly affected.
However, the association between the pandemic and people’s mental health has not been fully explored. A lot of unanswered questions still linger, and the key to answering these questions lies in assessing the effect of the pandemic in varying populations that have been exposed to different severity of lockdown restrictions and disease spread. Now, a team of scientists led by Dr. Chung-Ying Lin of National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Taiwan, has conducted such a study as part of a project contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia.
One might wonder how the SDGs tie into the team’s work. The project team—which also comprises Dr. Gary Ka-Ki Chung from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prof. Nai-Ying Ko and Dr. Carol Strong from NCKU, and Dr. Iqbal Pramukti from Universitas Padjadjaran in Indonesia—is associated with the Worldwide Universities Network’s Global Research Group SDGs in Asia. The Global Research Group aims to conduct research that will help achieve the UN SDGs in Asia. Research projects funded by the group focus on achieving SDG 3, 6, and 7. This particular project is focused on SDG 3, i.e., good health and well-being. And good health includes being mentally healthy too! Which is why their project focused on the mental health aspect of the pandemic.
The team recently published their findings in Frontiers in Medicine. Their article has been co-authored by numerous other distinguished researchers and describes their study in detail. A short video describing their research is also available here.
“We compared psychological distress and protection behaviors between 192 Taiwanese outpatients, 500 Taiwanese healthcare workers, and 1067 people in Hong Kong,” said Dr. Lin. People from these three populations have been differently affected by the pandemic, and hence were selected as participants. The cross-sectional study—conducted via online surveys filled up by the healthcare workers and outpatients in Taiwan and telephonic interviews with the general population in Hong Kong—revealed some interesting findings.
As far as psychological distress was concerned, Taiwanese outpatients and healthcare workers ranked higher than people in Hong Kong. Taiwanese healthcare workers, however, showed lesser fear of COVID-19 than people from the other two groups.
“An inverse relation was seen with regards to the adherence of protective behaviors that would reduce chances of infection with COVID-19,” Dr. Lin notes. Participants from Hong Kong adhered to protection behaviors more than Taiwanese outpatients.
This large-scale, collaborative project successfully outlined the psychosocial effect of the pandemic on populations in South Asia. Hopefully, this information will be useful during future pandemics or healthcare crises.