Lockdown strictness and mental health effects among older populations in Europe
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Senior and older Europeans
This paper investigates whether lockdown policies aggravated mental health problems of older populations (50 and over) in Europe during the first COVID-19 wave. Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE COVID-19 questionnaire) and from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker for 17 countries, we estimate the causal effect of lockdown policies on mental health by combining cross-country variability in the strictness of the policies with cross-individual variability in face-to-face contacts prior to the pandemic. We find that lockdown policies worsened insomnia, anxiety, and depression by 5, 7.2 and 5.1 percentage points, respectively. This effect was stronger for women and those aged between 50 and 65. Interestingly, lockdown policies notably damaged the mental health of healthy populations. We close with a discussion of lockdown policies targeted at individuals above 65 and/or with pre-existing conditions.