Questionnaire helps monitor mental health of young people during lockdown

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London-based researchers have developed an online questionnaire to ensure young people with mood and anxiety disorders don’t fall through the cracks during pandemic lockdowns.

The Lawson Health Research Institute came up with the electronic survey to address concerns patients from the London Health Sciences Centre’s first episode mood and anxiety program (FEMAP) were losing important mental health services during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis.

People between the age of 16 and 25 with mood and anxiety disorders are believed to be more vulnerable to the effects of quarantine measures as the social isolation can bring high levels of depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, and functional impairment.

“It was unclear how these young adults would weather prolonged physical distancing, inactivity, and reduced structure to their days. Some may be at an increased risk for depression while others may see symptoms improve due to fewer social expectations,” Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Lawson scientist and FEMAP medical director, said in a statement. “It is critical we understand how they respond to inform mental health care in response to the pandemic.”

The more than 100 patients who participated in the study regularly filled out the questionnaire that asked about their experiences during the pandemic, their mood and anxiety symptoms, and functioning and coping strategies.

The research team was then able to use the completed surveys to analyze changes in patient symptoms and their functioning and coping strategies over the course of several months. Patient’s whose responses were “concerning” were immediately contacted.

“The questionnaire made it easy to stay connected with patients, and by monitoring their symptoms and functioning we were able to make sure that our resources, limited by the pandemic, could be directed to those who needed it the most,” said Osuch.

The bulk of the questionnaires flagged for concerning scores were among younger individuals, more likely to be on the waiting list for treatment. They also tended to be people who had been laid off from work.

Researchers plan to use the results of the surveys to better understand and care for those with mood and anxiety disorders during future pandemics or other public health emergencies.

The study, called “monitoring the effects of COVID-19 in emerging adults with pre-existing mood and anxiety disorders,” was recently published in Early Intervention in Psychiatry.