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Most people are resilient

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research (LIR) in Mainz have for the first time compared studies on the course of psychological stress symptoms during the COVID 19 pandemic with courses of mental health after other stressful events (e.g. accidents or experiences of loss). They found that even during the pandemic, about two-thirds of people responded resiliently, i.e., had consistently low stress symptoms. Resilience is thus the most common response to stress both before and during the pandemic. In addition, the results suggest that young people are more affected by the psychological consequences of the pandemic than older people. The results of the researchers led by the Institute's scientific director, Prof. Dr. Klaus Lieb, were published in advance in the online edition of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

In a systematic review, researchers from the Leibniz Institute summarized 28 individual studies that examined the course of psychological stress symptoms during the COVID 19 pandemic. Different courses of symptoms and the frequency with which they occurred were recorded. It was also examined whether the frequency of certain courses depended on how old the persons examined were. The results of these analyses were compared with the findings of the group of researchers led by George Bonanno and Isaac Galatzer-Levy, who had already summarized trajectories of stress symptoms after various stressful events at the individual level (e.g. accidents, experiences of loss) in the same way in 2018, i.e. before the pandemic.

The results show that trajectories of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic are similar to those during other stressful events prior to the pandemic. In this regard, resilient trajectories, i.e., trajectories with consistently low levels of stress, are also the most common during the pandemic, at 65.7 percent. This underscores that resilience is not a rare phenomenon, but in fact a very common one. Trajectories in which individuals recovered from an initial high burden were found less frequently (13 percent) than before the pandemic (20.8 percent). More studies than before the pandemic also identified trajectories that showed constant exposure at intermediate levels. In particular, individuals with such trajectories may be at particular risk of developing long-term mental illness.


Similarly, the review shows that resilience research during the pandemic has focused primarily on middle-aged adults, while there remains a high need for research on older people as well as young adults, children, and adolescents. Existing studies to date suggest that older people are less stressed by the mental health consequences of the pandemic than younger people. Thus, it is important to understand what makes older people respond resiliently and what makes younger people a risk group. It is also important to understand how individual stresses (e.g., child care) interact with those at the societal level. To date, pandemic research has not been able to provide an adequate answer to this question.

"With these results, we show for the first time an almost identical frequency of resilient trajectories during the pandemic as after other stressful events that were more at the individual level. This is exciting because we studied a relatively homogeneous stress event at the societal level, and underscores that resilience is a common, not a rare, phenomenon. Similarly, our evaluation shows that older people are less psychologically stressed by the pandemic. This in particular is interesting because at the onset of the pandemic it was thought that older people might be more psychologically stressed due to the higher risk of severe disease progression. We don't yet know what explains these more resilient responses. One possibility is that coping with stressful events is learned and trained over a lifetime. It is equally conceivable that younger people were more affected by pandemic-related stressors. The goal of research must be to better understand these differences across the lifespan," explains LIR's scientific director, Prof. Dr. Klaus Lieb.

"Our research and other findings suggest that young people in particular are more affected by the psychological consequences of the pandemic. Reasons for this could be that the pandemic coincides with key socioemotional developmental phases at this age, but also that more has changed in everyday life - for example, due to the closure of schools and universities or the elimination of childcare services. Of course, the pandemic is also not a uniform stress event for all people. For some, life may have gone on without much change, while other people experienced a variety of stressful events. This aspect is important, but unfortunately still understudied by research," adds the study's first author, Dr. Sarah Schäfer, also of LIR.


Schäfer S. K., Kunzler, A. M., Kalisch, R., Tüscher, O., & Lieb, K. (2022). Trajectories of resilience and mental distress to global major disruptions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, /10.1016/j.tics.2022.09.017

Zum Vergleich herangezogen:

Galatzer-Levy, I. R., Huang, S. H., & Bonanno, G. A. (2018). Trajectories of resilience and dysfunction following potential trauma: A review and statistical evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review 63 (2018): 41-55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2018.05.008

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