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New ISGlobal Project to Study Impact of Pandemic on Mental Health and Social Inequalities

The CONTENT project has been awarded one of 15 social research grants from the ”la Caixa” Foundation

Photo: Edu Bayer / Barcelona City Council

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted mental health and social inequalities in Spain? A new project by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has been awarded a social research grant from the “la Caixa” Foundation. This funding will enable the project to assess the consequences that COVID-19 and the associated control measures have had on the mental health, behaviour and social inequalities of the Spanish population.

The CONTENT project, coordinated by Manolis Kogevinas, Scientific Director of the Severo Ochoa Distinction at ISGlobal, was one of 15 excellent social research projects selected by the ”la Caixa” Foundation to receive a €100,000 grant. The objective of CONTENT is to analyse the broad and lasting effects that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on society.

“A considerable amount of research has investigated the biomedical aspects of COVID-19, but there have been few studies on the long-term social and mental health effects of the pandemic and the inequities that may be associated with it,” commented Ximena Goldberg, a psychologist and researcher on the project. “We believe that the pandemic will affect different population groups unequally and this can only be examined in large population studies like this one,” added Kogevinas.

The study will involve 20,000 people in Spain between the ages of 15 and 85 years, all of whom took part in previous epidemiological cohort studies in 11 autonomous communities. Study participants will be followed for two years by means of questionnaires that they will be asked to complete on a web platform and a mobile application.

Guillaume Chevance, Head of the eHealth Group at ISGlobal, explained that the project will use “a flexible and innovative approach to allow continuous interaction with participants, including digital questionnaires, a mobile app, geographic information system (GIS) data and sensors designed for participatory science, which we have already used in studies of urban environments”.

Greater Impact on Vulnerable Groups

Spain is one of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19 and among those which have applied the strictest containment measures. The pandemic is expected to increase the incidence of mental health problems—particularly conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression—in the Spanish population. Elisa Sicuri, Associate Research Professor at ISGlobal, commented: “Social inequalities in health are expected to increase in especially vulnerable groups, including single-mother families with dependent children and people living in poverty.”

The researchers aim to share their scientific findings on the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on society with key stakeholders from public institutions, professional associations and civil society, thereby “promoting effective responses to the social challenges caused by the current crisis”, explained Sicuri.

In addition to Manolis Kogevinas, Guillaume Chevance, Ximena Goldberg and Elisa Sicuri, the ISGlobal researchers working on the project include Gemma Castaño, Judith Garcia-Aymerich and Gonzalo Fanjul. Rafael de Cid, Scientific Director of the GCAT Project at the Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP), is also involved in the project.

The population cohorts slated to participate in the project include BarcelonaBeta, GCAT-Genomes for Life, the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS), MCC-Spain, Urban Training, LeRAgs and the INMA Environment and Childhood Project.