A new study by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) clearly shows that the mental health of Germans is deteriorating. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders have increased. Other studies even record changes in personality traits.

Corona has left its mark. This is especially true when it comes to our mental health – which has deteriorated significantly since the pandemic began. During the course of the Corona crisis, the Robert Koch Institute examined the development of various characteristics of mental health among adults in Germany.

“As a national public health institute, the RKI collects a wide range of data with which the health of the population can be comprehensively assessed,” explains Lothar Wieler, President of the RKI. The effects of the pandemic play an important role in this. “The RKI data allows trends to be identified at an early stage and the need for action for research, practice and politics to be identified,” emphasizes Wieler. The new results, published in a report in the form of a preprint, relate to three indicators:

Depressive symptoms initially decreased during the time of the first corona wave and in summer 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, but they increased significantly from autumn 2020 to spring 2021 and from the end of 2021 to spring 2022.

Deteriorating mental health is also indicated by results on anxiety symptoms (anxiety and uncontrollable worry) and subjective mental health.

These developments show the need for further observation, also in order to be able to assess a possible reversibility of the trends.

The study also places the results in the temporal context of the phases of the corona pandemic. It can be assumed that in addition to the pandemic itself, other crises have contributed to the deterioration of the mental state. The study cannot be used to assess whether a temporal connection between these stressors and the development of mental health is to be understood as causal.

The aim of the analyzes was to detect changes as sensitively as possible in the sense of an early warning system via a visual representation of temporal trends. The indications of deteriorating mental health could also be statistically proven.

In addition to the RKI study, numerous other studies are investigating the effects of the corona pandemic on the psyche. A study by US researchers, for example, indicates a possible change in personality over the past two years. To do this, the researchers analyzed the character traits of over 7,000 Americans according to the “Big Five” personality model – each at different points in time.

The result: Since the beginning of the pandemic, younger people in particular have shown increased levels of the characteristic “neuroticism”, which can be translated as emotional lability. People with a strong expression are considered sensitive and less stable in their mood. They tend to be insecure, nervous and anxious, sensitive to stress and worry more often. At a very high level, there are even connections with depression and anxiety disorders.

All respondents also showed changes in the four other key personality traits in 2021 and 2022. They are:

As the researchers point out, deviations in personality traits according to the “Big Five” model usually develop very slowly and gradually, if at all. The changes recorded during the pandemic times correspond to changes that usually occur over the course of ten years.

As in the RKI study, however, the authors assume other causes for the developments – and name political and social unrest and the government-imposed restrictions as potential stressors. The WHO also counts social and economic inequalities, wars or the climate crisis among the risk factors for mental illnesses.

Nevertheless, the following applies: Corresponding events act as possible triggers, but do not represent the cause of mental illness. The origin of this can usually be found in childhood.

The WHO defines a mental illness as a significant disturbance in a person’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior, usually associated with stress or impairment in important areas of functioning. In addition to medication, psychotherapy is the most important measure in the treatment of mental illness.

Do you feel emotionally burdened? Here you can find out how to get to a therapy place as quickly as possible.