Last month, about one in five adults in Belgium indicated that they were struggling with depression or anxiety – the highest rates since the beginning of the pandemic according to Sciensano’s most recent health survey.
Between 13 and 23 December 2021, the Sciensano national health institute surveyed over 22,000 people to gauge the impact of the epidemic on the population.
The researchers were struck by the results for people’s mental health: 21% of adults were found to have a depressive disorder and 24% to have an anxiety disorder.
“These are the highest measured rates since the beginning of the Covid-19 health surveys,” Stefaan Demarest, project leader for the health surveys, told The Brussels Times. “During the pandemic, we see that the figures fluctuate enormously depending on the epidemiological situation.”
“The figures for the number of people having a difficult time clearly go down when the situation improves, and go back up when it gets worse,” he added, referring to the more hopeful results of the previous survey in September-October.
In the latest survey, far more adults indicated that they were dissatisfied with their lives at the end of the year 2021. This rose from 14% at the beginning of October to 34% at the end of December 2021. Young people between 18 and 29 are the most likely to report being dissatisfied with their lives (37%), the institute said in a press release.
More than a quarter of adults (28%) also indicated that they were “severely lonely” – worse than in October, but similar to March 2021.
Demarest described the situation in October as being much more optimistic: “The situation in the hospitals was better. There was a feeling that this was almost over.”
“And then came the fifth wave. I think that the population was a bit disappointed that the problems were not yet coming to an end and this was reflected in poor scores for mental health.”
A very resilient population
As coronavirus measures were tightened towards the end of the year, more adults felt negative about the situation in general, Sciensano observed. “This was especially the case for work or education, family life and social life, with percentages in December 2021 as high as in March of the same year.”
Still, Demarest stressed that the results of this 9th health survey also indicate a very resilient population. “This is very positive news. We are now one year and nine months into this pandemic, and the overwhelming majority continue to support many of the measures, which is really hopeful.”
Despite what Demarest called signs of “pandemic fatigue,” the vast majority of people understand that the measures have to be adjusted depending on the evolution of the pandemic, and support these changes.
“The majority of people continue to follow the measures and believe in their effectiveness.”