In this manuscript, we discuss the impact of COVID-19 crisis on the psychological health of publics in the UAE. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study in this area that assesses COVID-19’s impact on mental health as depression and perceived stress among publics in the UAE.
In response to this crisis, the curfew and disruption of usual daily life have affected the individuals’ psychological health status. Assessment of psychological health in most of the recent studies have focused on the frontliners (healthcare providers) [15, 16] with minimal concern about the public, especially in the UAE . Thereby, our study aims to evaluate the psychological health status in terms of perceived stress and depression among UAE population in response to this pandemic and to investigate the most affected groups of people by this crisis.
Our data revealed that COVID-19 has a substantial effect on the public mental health in the UAE. Depressive symptoms were prevalent among 47.8% of the participants with an average score of 10.5 ± 6.6. Likewise, the average perceived stress score was 18.7 ± 4.2. Age, gender, work performance, and school attendance were major predictors of both depression and perceived stress.
The emergent spread of COVID-19 over the world has caused a big fear and depression among a large portion of the world. Approximately, half of our study participants suffered from depressive symptoms (47.8%) during the pandemic. On the other hand, previous studies reported lower extent of depression among their populations. For instance, 31.0% of the studied population in Milan had depression . Similarly, a study conducted in China represented 16.5% of the participants having depressive symptoms. In India, even fewer prevalence of depression (10.5%) was reported during this pandemic . According to our data, more than ¾ of the participants were anxious (84.7%) during the pandemic. While this high value has exceeded the reported values of perceived stress in previous studies, as in a Chinese study, which reported a prevalence of perceived stress among 35.1% of the participants . Another previous study reported that 42.0% of their participants were anxious since this pandemic . This variance in the prevalence of depressive symptoms can be attributed to many factors, such as the “hypochondriac concerns,” which means worry and fear of being infected during the pandemic or when the epidemic is out of control . In addition, the time of conducting the study and type of the imposed lockdown are considerable explanations of this variance, where studies conducted early with no or partial lockdown showed less prevalence of depression compared to those conducted at the mid of the crisis and during a complete lockdown. This suggestion is further supported by our findings, which showed higher levels of depression among participants exposed to complete lockdown.
In the current study, both depression and perceived stress were significantly affected by many social biodata. For example, age, gender, school attendance, and work performance were directly affecting the prevalence of depressive symptoms and perceived stress. In accordance with China and Spain’s studies, our data showed that gender was a main predictor of developing depression, as females reported higher levels of perceived stress compared to males [22, 23]. Surprisingly, these results are supported by various concepts derived from previous studies. For instance, women are well-known of being the essential caregiver at home in majority of the families, so, when there was closure of schools and other facilities, a huge burden at home occurs over the women’s shoulders [22, 24]. In addition, when working women started to work from home during the lockdown, their ability to perform duties at home and achieve successful work was conflicted and reduced substantially . However, further gender-based assessment after the COVID-19 crisis should be evaluated to find out its impact on the psychological health between both genders.
Furthermore, younger age participants (18–20) and high school students were more likely to be depressed and anxious compared to other age groups. This agrees with previous records, where younger participants showed worse psychological health during the COVID-19 crisis [18, 25]. This can be also justified by the prolonged lockdown and distance learning as well as equivocation about the examinations, which had a negative impact on the students particularly. This finding is consistent with the drastic change in youngers’ life compared to their parents’ life during this pandemic .
Additionally, our finding revealed that insecurity and work status are important socioeconomic factors for developing psychological burnout. Participants whose work performance was negatively affected during the pandemic had higher rates of depression and perceived stress. This can be clearly related to the economic crisis and inability to generate a good income following the lockdown, which was mainly seen among self-employee participants that were more anxious about their businesses . Moreover, participants who worked from home during the lockdown showed more depressive symptoms. This interestingly can be attributed to the disturbance of the daily routine and alerting the important activities as well as to a big worry of losing their jobs. Our findings are further supported by previous study .
Conclusively, the current study demonstrated that COVID-19 has a substantial impact on public psychological health, especially among certain group of people as females, young age people, high school students, and those whose work performance was negatively affected after the pandemic. Further in-depth concern should be directed to assess the mental health among those groups to implement strategies in combating psychological impairments during this crisis.
Study strengths and limitations
There is limited information about the existence of such studies in the region. The current study dealt with exploring the impact of COVID-19 on mental health of publics in the UAE. The present study has some limitations. Firstly, the majority of the participants were at young age and undergraduates. Nevertheless, the proportion of community, which was targeted in this study, was wide enough to include males and females from age of 18 and above, yet the community in the UAE is considered to be fresh and youth. Moreover, big percentage of the study participants were university students, and this could be due to the population demographics in the UAE as majority of the UAE population falls in the age group of 25 to 54 years old. Youth dependency ratio is 16.4% compared to elderly dependency ratio which is 1.3% . Furthermore, our study sample size was relatively not large and not highly representative with regard to the size of the population but is considered representative from different angle as it included male and female participants with different age, educational background groups, and different emirates in the UAE.
The present study also had some other limitations: The results of this study were reliant on the correctness and honesty of the participants’ responses that might lead to information bias. In addition, it was conducted within a short duration after imposing the country lockdown. However, the research team aimed to assess the mental health in a relatively short period before the country can release the lockdown and announce return back to normal life.