Monitoring the effects of COVID-19 quarantine measures on young adults with mood and anxiety disorders

Concerned that patients from the First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program (FEMAP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) would lose connection to important mental health services during the first wave of the pandemic, researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) tested the use of an electronic questionnaire to help monitor and assess the mental health impacts of isolating public health measures on young adults with mood and anxiety disorders. 

Since the pandemic’s start, there have been concerns about the effects of quarantine measures on mental health. Young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 with mood and anxiety disorders are particularly vulnerable as they could experience high levels of depression, anxiety, traumatic stress and functional impairment from social isolation.  

“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,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Scientist at Lawson and Medical Director at FEMAP. “It is critical we understand how they respond to inform mental health care in response to the pandemic.” 

The study followed 114 participants who completed regular surveys answering questions about their experiences during the pandemic, including information about their mood and anxiety symptoms, functioning and coping strategies. The team was immediately alerted if a patient’s survey responses were concerning, so they could reach out. 

The research team analyzed changes in patient symptoms, functioning and coping strategies over the course of several months. Participants who were flagged for concerning scores were found to be younger, more likely to be on a waiting list for treatment, and more likely to have been laid off from work or have a higher degree of functional impairment. 

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Lawson Scientist and Medical Director of FEMAP

“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,” says Dr. Osuch. 

The researchers anticipated early on that those with mood and anxiety disorders would respond uniquely to the pandemic situation. Some would have more difficulty with the quarantine itself while others might ultimately find the return to normal more challenging. By understanding these different trajectories and how to track them, care can be optimized for future pandemic events or other public health emergencies. 

The study, “Monitoring the effects of COVID‐19 in emerging adults with pre‐existing mood and anxiety disorders,” is published in Early Intervention in Psychiatry.