Psychologists have launched a study of the mental health and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, an effort that may shed more light on how the spread of the disease affects people's behaviour.
Researchers, led by Professor Richard Bentall at the University of Sheffield, are surveying 2,000 people in the UK, and again in a month's time, and hope that their findings will help inform the better management of future public health crises, the University said in a release.
They aim to measure impacts of the epidemic on people's mental health, their attitudes towards others, and their political views, and understand how these change as the epidemic progresses through the population.
The psychologists also hope to understand how these changes are related to appropriate changes in health-related behaviour.
They seek to understand how these impacts are related to exposure to infected people, and beliefs about the virus and the epidemic.
The scientists said they will also look at how these impacts are explained by psychological factors which may make some people cope better with the epidemic than others.
In the study, the researchers will ask a representative group of UK residents about their COVID-19 health related behaviours such as social distancing, use of masks, and handwashing, their statement said.
Based on these inputs, the psychologists plan to measure the extent to which people are enacting these protective behaviours.
According to the scientists, there has been very little research on the psychological impacts of viral epidemics.
However, they said the limited available data suggest that such epidemics may have severe social and psychological effects, and quarantining people may affect their mental health.
The psychologists hypothesise that exposure to COVID-19 events, such as exposure to infected people, will cause an increase in depression, anxiety, death anxiety and paranoia.
They also expect reductions in people's sense of trust and control over their own lives.
This is one of the first studies of the 'psychology of epidemics' during perhaps one of the biggest existential threats the world has faced this century," said Jilly Gibson-Miller, one of the psychologists part of the study from the University of Sheffield.
The scientists said the study may improve people's understanding, in great depth, the psychological impact of the pandemic and how this changes as the disease spreads.
"As a Health Psychologist, I'm particularly interested in the extent to which people are carrying out protective behaviours, such as hand-washing and social distancing, and whether they feel they have sufficient motivation, opportunity and capability to do so, Gibson-Miller said.
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