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The Oxford University COSIE study (COvid-19, Social Isolation and Emotion) is an online study which asked people about their experiences during the coronavirus lockdown in late April 2020, while also using objective tests of psychological function to measure vulnerability to mental illness such as depression.

Women with her head resting on her hand, looking unhappy.
Figure 1: Oxford University COSIE study sample

COVID-19 will have long lasting effects on mental health, both directly, as a result of infection, and indirectly, as a result of isolation. There is an urgent global need to identify the best interventions to help mitigate these effects.  However, without understanding the mechanisms of risk and resilience in this unique situation it is difficult to determine the best treatments. 

The COSIE study is designed to investigate the effect of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing. Study leads Professor Catherine Harmer and Dr Susannah Murphy recruited a uniquely characterised sample of the population (Figure 1) that will be assessed at regular intervals over the next few months, as the global situation evolves.

 

The restrictions to our everyday lives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have stripped away many of our usual activities that promote mental wellbeing, and we are already seeing sharp rises in anxiety and depression in the general population.  As we face an extended period of disruption to our normal lives, it is essential that we have high quality evidence to establish the effects of social isolation over time, and to identify the factors that have a positive protective effect. - Dr Susannah Murphy, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

 

2,039 participants from the UK took part in the study. After 5 weeks of lockdown some factors were identified that were associated with a greater psychological vulnerability to depression:

  • a current mental health diagnosis
  • being in an “at-risk” group for COVID-19
  • key worker status

Importantly, other factors that are protective were also identified, including:

  • moderate levels of exercise
  • regular structured activity
  • taking a statin

 

 

 

These data are really useful as they provide us with a sense of the risk and buffering factors for the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic.  The protective effects of taking a statin are particularly interesting, and consistent with previous evidence suggesting that statins may protect people against depression.  - Professor Catherine Harmer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

 

The initial evidence demonstrates what factors are associated with good and bad mental health outcomes during this unique situation. By understanding what kinds of behaviours, medication and lifestyle factors play a role in risk and resilience, it is hoped that interventions and treatments can be developed that can be targeted at those who are most vulnerable to the mental health consequences of COVID-19. 

This project has been funded by the University of Oxford's COVID-19 Research Response Fund. 

 

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