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29th Dec 2021

Dr. Keith Gaynor: The impact that lockdown has had on our mental health this year

“Negative thoughts were pretty universal.”

Research carried out between 2020 and 2021, during one of the longest periods of lockdown in the Republic of Ireland, aimed to explore to identify appropriate psychological interventions to protect the mental health of the population during this unique period of time.

Speaking to Dr. Keith Gaynor, Assistant Professor and Senior Clinical Psychologist at UCD, many people have reported a significant decline in their mental health since the pandemic started.

The research findings highlight the importance of developing positive mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

This could include Positive Psychology or Compassion-Focused Therapy which emphasise positive emotions such as empathy, and gratitude, may be helpful within the general population and particularly protective for those experiencing depressive symptoms.

Speaking to us on his research, Dr. Keith Gaynor, said;

“This research is really valuable because we’re hearing from people in their own words about how they feel. There’s very little research out there like that.

This pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to compare responses among those with high and low depression scores at a time of known threat to all members of the population. “

Speaking further, Dr Gaynor went on to say that negative and depressed thoughts were extremely common amongst those he spoke to;

“What our research found was that negative thoughts were pretty universal. Having negative thoughts during a pandemic is a pretty normal, natural reaction.

This is a really negative event and there’s something really important about normalizing feeling negative about a lockdown or other negative events that we’re experiencing.

However, when we looked to see what the core differences were between those who are depressed and those who are not depressed, you could see that people who are not depressed have had negative thoughts, but we’re able to balance them with positive thoughts.

We went one step further with the analysis to determine what makes up those positive components. It was things like empathy for people who were suffering, gratitude for the positive aspects of people’s own situations, and compassion for neighbours, friends and family who were in difficult situations.”

When asked what can be done to help mitigate these thoughts, Dr. Gaynor commented on what needs to be done at public health level in order to protect the mental health of the population during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic;

“We don’t need to challenge negative thoughts, necessarily, but we do need to help people build positive responses of empathy, compassion and gratitude to help protect our mental health.

Our research highlights the importance of developing a positive cognitive framework to the pandemic and indicates that approaches such as Positive Psychology or Compassion-Focused Therapy which emphasise positive emotions, empathy, and gratitude may be particularly helpful.”

Dr. Gaynor has also written a free mental health workbook entitled Coping During Covid which is accessible on