Monitoring well-being from the outset and throughout the duration of a pandemic, health emergency or other crisis provides helpful input in making policy choices. This information makes it possible to be aware of unintended side effects, such as a deteriorating sense of well-being among young people, take them into account when drafting crisis response policy, and mitigate the impact where possible. This is the conclusion reached by the Network for Health Research in Disasters (GOR Network) after nearly three years of research on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another notable finding was the scope and persistence of the health impacts of the pandemic. One example is the limited recovery observed in young people’s poorer mental health up to two years after the last lockdown. The results confirm the findings from previous research.

The researchers have also observed that some people still need support to ensure their well-being, even two years after the last lockdown. Acknowledgement of the impact is key. This could be achieved by organising local commemoration or contemplation activities or by active asking about the impact on people’s lives. Young people feel a need to talk about their experiences and symptoms in an easily accessible way. This may still be relevant in the longer term.

Vulnerable groups even more vulnerable

The results also show that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed existing problems in society. Vulnerable groups have become even more vulnerable. Adults who already had difficulty making ends meet have seen their health deteriorating faster since the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also apparent that loneliness is one of the most important causes of mental health problems, among young people and adults. For that reason, it is important to foster ‘social interactions’ among all age groups both during and after a crisis, according to the researchers. Small-scale citizen initiatives, such as organising a neighbourhood party, can already make a significant contribution here.

Research programme on impact of prolonged crisis

Over the course of a five-year period, the Network for Health Research in Disasters (GOR Network) is compiling more knowledge on the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Integrated Health Monitor COVID-19, in part by conducting surveys and literature reviews. The researchers also regularly conduct interviews with people who have first-hand experience, experts in various fields, and education professionals. The resulting insights will help policy-makers to take effective measures in response to the current crisis and similar situations in the future, taking well-being into account. 

The GOR Network consists of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), local offices of the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs), GGD GHOR (the national umbrella organisation of the GGDs and the Regional Medical Assistance Organisations), the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel), and ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre. The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) is the commissioning client for this research, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS).