News and events Tilburg University

No increase in mental problems after the COVID-19 outbreak in the Netherlands, except among specific groups such as job seekers

Published: 10th September 2020 Last updated: 10th September 2020

The prevalence of Dutch adults with mild to severe anxiety and depression symptoms during COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 was similar to the prevalence in November 2019 (about 17%), four months before the outbreak. The same pattern applies to adults with a lack of emotional support. Specific groups such as job seekers and students compared to employed, other than in March 2019, more often had anxiety and depression symptoms than employed adults. A similar pattern was observed among adults with heart problems compared to others. These findings are based on a new population-based study in the Netherlands conducted by CentERdata, Victim Support Fund, NIVEL, and Tilburg University (NETHLAB), the Netherlands.

To rule out seasonality effects, the course of anxiety and depression symptoms in the period November 2019- March 2020, was compared with the course in the period November 2019- March 2020. Adults with existing anxiety and depression symptoms and long problems in November 2019 more often suffered from symptoms in March 2020 than others, but the same pattern was found in March 2019. This pattern us different for job seekers, students and for those who take care of the householding. In March 2020 they significantly more often suffered from anxiety and depression symptoms than employed (33%, 30% and 20%, versus 14.5% respectively), but not more often in March 2019.

In March 2020, people did not more often lack emotional support than in March 2019. However, those who take care of the household more often, in contrast to March 2019, lacked emotional support than employed individuals in March 2020. A similar pattern was found for people with heart problems and diabetes: in March 2020 they slightly more often lacked emotional support than others, but not in March 2019.

The results are based on a large longitudinal study among a random sample of the Dutch adult population, with assessments in November 2018 and March 2019, and November 2019 and March 2020 (N~4000).

United States and United Kingdom

The results seem to differ strongly from similar research in the U.S. Compared to 2019, adults in April-May 2020 were more than three times likely to screen positive for anxiety and depression disorder. The results also differ from a similar longitudinal study in the U.K: the prevalence of mental health problems increased from 19% in 2018-2019 to 27% in April 2020. The large differences between especially the U.S. and our study could be partly attributed to differences in policies toward this pandemic, and differences in social welfare and health care systems.

The study is part of the longitudinal study of the VICTIMS project (Victims in Modern Society) of the Victim Support Fund, and is just published in the leading peer-reviewed scientfic journal Journal of Affective Disorders1.


Van der Velden, P. G., Contino, C., Das, M., Loon, P. van., & Bosmans, M. (2020). Anxiety and depression symptoms, and lack of emotional support among the general Dutch population before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. A prospective national study on prevalence and risk factors. Journal of Affective Disorders.

Note to editors