Study identifies 'post-traumatic growth' emerging from COVID-19 lockdowns

February 08, 2021

Results from a new study which draws on survey data collected during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic suggests that being forced to slow down life, as a consequence of lockdown, has had significant, positive impacts for many people and their families.

The research, recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry from a team at the University of Bath with international colleagues, analysed survey results from 385 caregivers of children aged 6-16 both in the UK and Portugal. Individuals completed an online questionnaire between 1 May 2020 and 27 June 2020.

This cohort had experienced considerable adversity because of COVID-19. 70% were working exclusively from home, almost half reported a reduction in income and nearly all children (93%) were being home schooled at the time. In addition, one in five identified at least one family member who was suspected or had been infected with COVID-19.

Yet despite all this, when asked the question - "Do you think there are any positive to come out of this pandemic and of the social distancing restrictions?" - 88% of respondents said 'yes'.

Their responses fell into four key areas, which the researchers describe collectively as examples of 'post-traumatic growth' - whereby individuals experience positive effects following stressful or traumatic events:Lead researcher, Professor Paul Stallard of the University of Bath's Department for Health, explains: "Of course, the pandemic has affected all our lives in significant ways, most obviously the understandable and substantial negative impact it has placed on our mental health which we know has been acute for very many.

"But that is not the full story. Many respondents in our study emphasised what we had heard anecdotally about some of the positive effects people have derived from leading their lives in quieter, slower ways because of lockdowns.

"These are important findings. Not only do we identify what some of these positive experiences have been, but we also show that those people who have been able to find those positives had better mental wellbeing than those who did not. And it gives us clues about how we might build back happier and healthier by embracing aspects of a quieter life and those small, positives that have emerged from this period."

Co-author, Dr Ana Isabel Pereira of the University of Lisbon added: "This study also suggests strategies that families returning to a more restrictive lockdown in several countries can use. It is important, especially in these moments of high adversity, to find meaning and purpose in these experiences.

"In each moment, we can find new ways to connect and build stronger connections with our children, partner or friends; to choose how we can make the best use of this time of confinement and to help others in the community experiencing more adversity or with fewer resources navigate this period."
The research is published via BJPsych Open (2021) 7, e37, 1-5. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2021.1

University of Bath

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