Differential effects of COVID-19 and containment measures on mental health: Evidence from ITA.LI—Italian Lives, the Italian household panel

This study used a subsample of a household panel study in Italy to track changes in mental health before the onset of COVID-19 and into the first lockdown period, from late April to early September 2020. The results of the random-effects regression analyses fitted on a sample of respondents aged 16 years and older (N = 897) proved that there was a substantial and statistically significant short-term deterioration in mental health (from 78,5 to 67,9; β = -10.5, p < .001; Cohen’s d -.445), as measured by a composite index derived from the mental component of the 12-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12). The findings also showed heterogeneity in the COVID-related effects. On the one hand, evidence has emerged that the pandemic acted as a great leveller of pre-existing differences in mental health across people of different ages: the decrease was most pronounced among those aged 16–34 (from 84,2 to 66,5; β = -17.7, p < .001; Cohen’s d -.744); however, the magnitude of change reduced as age increased and turned to be non-significant among individuals aged 70 and over. On the other hand, the COVID-19 emergency widened the mental health gender gap and created new inequalities, based on the age of the youngest child being taken care of within the household.