COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Perspective from Efraim J. Keisari, MD
Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of reporting.
June 10, 2020
4 min read

Institutional trust, mental distress increase in New Zealand following COVID-19 lockdown

Perspective from Efraim J. Keisari, MD
Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of reporting.
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Individuals were more likely to report institutional trust, as well as increased psychological distress, after the COVID-19 pandemic than before, according to a survey study conducted in New Zealand and published in American Psychologist.

“At the start of the pandemic, things moved very quickly in New Zealand, as they did around the world," Chris Sibley, PhD, of University of Auckland, and Fiona Kate Barlow, PhD, of University of Queensland, told Healio Psychiatry. "We thought it was important to provide rapid-turnaround, high-quality data on how New Zealanders were holding up under lockdown, their levels of mental health and also their levels of trust in police, politicians and satisfaction with government. We have never seen anything like this before, and so data on how people would react were very limited. Our results showed that, in New Zealand, under the conditions of a strong and cohesive national response, people were more likely to lean on and trust their politicians, scientists, police and communities and ultimately more likely to comply with the lockdown and health guidelines.”

infographic showing scientist, politician, and policeman
A survey study reported data on the psychological impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sibley, Barlow and colleagues sought to determine the immediate effects of a nationwide lockdown as a pandemic response. They analyzed 20-year longitudinal survey data on social attitudes, personality and health outcomes of approximately 60,000 New Zealand citizens who were included in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. The latest data for that study were being collected when the country initiated its lockdown. In the 18 days following lockdown, 1,003 participants had responded to the survey.

Chris Sibley
Fiona Kate Barlow

Sibley, Barlow and colleagues examined institutional trust and attitudes toward the nation and government, as well as health and well-being, and applied propensity score matching to approximate the conditions of a randomized controlled experiment. They compared responses after the pandemic to those from the same number of individuals who responded before the pandemic, controlling for similar demographic and lifestyle variables, including age, gender, ethnicity, mental health diagnosis and smoking behavior.

Results showed those in the post-lockdown group reported higher trust in science, politicians and police, as well as higher levels of patriotism. The post-lockdown group also reported “slightly higher levels of psychological distress,” Sibley said in the release. Among the pre-lockdown group, 77.1% of participants reported no distress, 16.2% reported moderate distress and 6.6% reported serious distress. Among the post-lockdown group, 73.5% reported no distress, 21.1% reported moderate distress and 5.8% reported serious distress.

"Internationally, we hope that our results from New Zealand will help contribute, along with results reported by other researchers in other countries, to inform a plan for what to do in the event of the next global crisis," Sibley and Barlow told Healio Psychiatry. "For example, we should anticipate that well-being will deteriorate, and we should build mechanisms to provide support for those most affected.