People who live in apartments may have experienced more mental health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic than their peers in the suburbs.
Research from the University of Georgia found apartment dwellers, and in particular those who lived alone, had higher odds of experiencing mental health issues than people who lived in condos or standalone homes.
Those who lived alone had a tougher time coping mentally with the pandemic than those who lived with roommates or family.
“Clearly, the loneliness angle is a compelling one from the findings of our study. While we did not designate whether the people living together within a housing unit were family members or roommates, the evidence was clear that mental health improved with every extra person being added to the housing unit,” Andrew Carswell, author of the study and a Professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia told Theravive.
“This ran a little counter to our expectations on this variable given the anxieties associated with contracting COVID, but is actually consistent with research out there in the gerontology field about the problems associated with loneliness itself, which some gerontologists would call an epidemic in and of itself.”
In undertaking the research, Carswell drew on data from the Household Pulse Survey. This is an online randomized surveyed from the Census Bureau that gathers information about how people have been impacted by COVID-19.
More than 80 thousand households per week participated and more than 1.5 million people participated during the period studied.
The survey included questions regarding food security, employment status and job security. Those surveyed were also asked how anxious or worried they felt over the past week, as well as how often they felt depressed.
Past research has already established that those who rent rather than own their own homes are more likely to experience mental health challenges, and Carswell says his study found the pandemic compounded this problem.
“From our research, it would appear that tenure (renting versus owning) contributes a lot. Clearly, if you owned your house and lived in a free-standing home, your mental health did not suffer, controlling for all other variables. One of the most likely explanations for this is that one has more control over their situation in this kind of housing arrangement, where they can come and go as they please and follow their own prudent path with minimal intrusion from others,” Carswell said.
“In rental situations, however, there are density concerns that create anxieties about contracting the virus. On top of that, stay-at-home orders will almost force you to interact with people in the halls that only compounds the situation. In many rental situations, the amenities may also suddenly go dormant such as play areas for the residents and gyms. You also may be relying too much on landlords and property managers who are either ill-equipped to deal with pandemic-related issues or unprepared for supply chain issues that will impact their residents as well. It mostly boils down to the issue of control within one’s living environment…homeowners have more of it than renters.”
He says not only were those living in apartments negatively impacted by COVID-19, but so too were those managing them.
“During the early days of the pandemic, property managers were under the same kind of stresses and anxieties that others were feeling as well. Some of them may have contracted the virus themselves, possibly causing a worker shortage on site. Suddenly, cleaning responsibilities became one of their top priorities. They may have even been asked to enforce stay at home rules that they otherwise would not have been asked to do. This creates mental health concerns of their own, which might have ramifications for the residents as well.”
Carswell says if it is safe, those who live in apartments or who live alone can take steps to mitigate some of the negative mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a tough one because the risks associated with leaving one’s house or apartment during COVID are not trivial. Nevertheless, if you have loved ones or good friends that live not too far and you get tested ahead of time, it might not be a bad idea to plan for some kind of visit with them (provided the state or jurisdiction does not have a shelter in place ordinance). Zoom calls help, but only go so far as to maintaining a semblance of a relationship with people,” he said.