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1. Key messages

  • Mental and social health have deteriorated since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • A lower life satisfaction was particularly observed in 2020, March 2021, and December 2021.
  • Twice as many people reported low social support during the COVID-19 crisis as in 2018.
  • The compliance with the measures imposed by the government to reduce the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus varied throughout the year. In March 2021, the lack of compliance for some measures ranged between 50% for having only one close social contact (outside the household) and 3% for not respecting the ban on non-essential travel.
  • Lockdowns impacted the access to healthcare and home care, but the impact was much smaller during the second lockdown.
  • In 2020, around 20% of the population saw their financial situation worsening because of the crisis; around 10% of the population worried that they would lack food before being able to buy more.

2. Life satisfaction

On the Sciensano dashboard, you can find dynamic data visualization about mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

Life satisfaction is a self-reported evaluation of all aspects of one’s life. In the health interview survey (HIS) of 2018, 12% of the population reported low life satisfaction. This percentage raised to 32% in December 2020 and March 2021 and to 34% in December 2021. In June 2022, 13% of the population reported low life satisfaction, similarly to 2018.

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over with low life satisfaction in the COVID-19 health surveys 2020-2022 compared to the health interview survey 2018, Belgium
Source: COVID-19 health surveys and HIS 2018, Sciensano [4-11]

3. Social health

Quality of social contacts and social support is important to cope with unstable situations and health issues. The perceived quality of social support has been monitored since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Twice as many people reported low social support in 2020, in March and December 2021 and in March and June 2022 (between 30% to 40%) as in 2018 (16%). The proportion of the population reporting low social support is still high in June 2022 (31%) compared to the levels of 2018.

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over reporting low social support in the COVID-19 health surveys 2020-2022, compared to the health interview survey 2018, Belgium
Source: COVID-19 health surveys and HIS 2018, Sciensano [1-11]

4. Compliance with containment measures

The compliance of measures reflects the compliance of the Belgian citizens with political decisions. Non-compliance can have different reasons: lack of confidence in policymakers or specific policies, different priority orders, the perception that being cautious is enough, need for social contacts, etc.

In March 2021, the number of respondents that reported to not strictly comply with the measures increased compared to the number in December 2020. One in two citizens reported that they did not limit their close contacts to one person and 40% reported to not adhere to social distancing. Wearing a mask when mandatory and the ban on non-essential travel were the most followed measures.

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over reporting not strictly complying with the measures in place, Belgium, 2021
Source: COVID-19 health surveys, Sciensano [1-6]
*Survey 3 organized in June: formulated as 'covering mouth and nose in public transports' (also mandatory at the time)

5. Access to health care and home care

Lockdown measures and fear of the SARS-COV-2 virus have reduced contacts with healthcare professionals for problems not linked to COVID-19. These delays in receiving adequate healthcare can have a negative impact on the health status of the Belgian population in the long term.

During the first lockdown, the percentage of people with a canceled or postponed medical appointment ranged between 90% for rehabilitation appointments and 25% for GP appointments. The second lockdown had a lower impact on access to care due to efforts made to keep healthcare accessible to everybody. The percentage of people with a canceled or postponed medical appointment ranged between 30% for medical-technical treatment appointments and 4% for GP appointments.

It should be noted that we do not know if the patient or the healthcare worker canceled the planned appointments.

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over having canceled or postponed appointments with care providers during the last 4 weeks (for care not linked to COVID-19), Belgium, 2020
Source: COVID-19 health surveys, Sciensano [1,5]

The measures also have an impact on access to home care. During the first lockdown, 49% of the people saw their elderly care assistance stopped and 15% saw it reduced. For 28% of people, the assistance of a home nurse stopped, and for 15% of people it reduced.

During the second lockdown, fewer people reported a cessation in the assistance they usually receive (elderly care assistance stopped for 9% of people and home nurse assistance for 11%), but more people reported a reduction in the assistance (32% and 16% of people respectively for elderly care assistance and home nurse).

Percentage of the population for which home assistance stopped or reduced during the last 4 weeks among the population aged 18 and over who usually have assistance, Belgium, 2020
Source: COVID-19 health surveys, Sciensano [1,5]

Fifteen percent of people aged 18 and older indicated that because of financial problems, they had to postpone their medical care, dental care, purchase of (prescribed) medication, purchase of glasses and/or mental health care during the COVID-19 crisis. This percentage is higher compared to the rate reported in the HIS 2018 (9% postponed their care in the last year because of financial problems).

6. Financial situation

Research has documented the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people’s economic situation. Using the COVID-19 health surveys, the change in the financial situation during the crisis was examined for the Belgian population.

In June, 22% of people indicated that the financial situation of their household was worse than 3 months ago. This rate was highest among single-parent families (one-third of them) and among couples with children (one-quarter of them).

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over reporting worse financial situation than 3 months ago, by household type, Belgium, June 2020
Source: COVID-19 health surveys, Sciensano [3]

Food security was investigated in June and December and surveyed: the fear of lacking food, the effective lack of food, and the difficulty/impossibility to afford healthy balanced meals. Between 10% and 12% of people reported that they could not afford to eat healthy balanced meals or that they worried that food would run out before being able to buy food again. 5% of people in June and 6% in December reported that they ran out of food before being able to buy food again during the 3 last months.

Percentage of the population aged 18 and over who, during the COVID-19 crisis, often or sometimes worried that food would run out, actually run out of food, or could not afford to eat healthy balanced meals, Belgium, 2020
Source: COVID-19 health surveys, Sciensano [3,5]

7. Read more

COVID-19 epidemiological situation
HISIA: Interactive Analysis of the Belgian Health Interview Survey

If you are in distress or in need of emotional/psychological support, do not hesitate to call 02 648 40 14 for the community help service helpline, or visit the Community Help Service online.

Background

In Belgium, restrictive measures have been put in place by the National Security Council from 13 March 2020 onwards with the objective to stem the spread of the SARS-COV-2 within the population. Beside the direct impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the health of the population, these restrictive measures also have indirect consequences on the health and lifestyles of citizens.

In order to capture some consequences of this crisis Sciensano organized online surveys at regular time intervals. In total, eleven surveys took place between April 2020 and June 2022 with the number of participants varying between 44 000 for the first survey and 13 882 for the tenth survey. Each survey included some core modules; mental and social wellbeing, compliance with the restrictive measures put in place, and COVID-19 infections. Besides, every edition included some additional modules (e.g. impact on lifestyles, attitudes towards vaccination…). To assess the impact of the crisis, some results were compared to the results of the Health Interview Survey (HIS) 2018. HIS surveys give a representative image of the health status of the Belgian population under “normal” circumstances.

The COVID-19 surveys were announced through the websites of Sciensano and some other organizations (health insurance funds, community centers…), through the press and through social media. People were asked to forward the invitation to their personal networks (“snowball principle”). The samples of respondents to the COVID-19 surveys are not representative of the Belgian population: Flemish residents, women, and people with a higher education level are overrepresented, while Walloon residents, men, younger people, and people with at most a degree of secondary education are underrepresented. To reduce this bias, the results are weighted to represent the age, gender, and province distribution of the country. Since the 3rd survey also the distribution of the education level was taken into account in the weighting.

The full set of results can be found in the different survey reports.

References

  1. Première enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2020/14.440/50. Brussels: Sciensano; 2020. doi: 10.25608/ydnc-dk63
  2. Deuxième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2020/14.440/52. Brussels: Sciensano; 2020. doi: 10.25608/rkna-ee65
  3. Troisième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2020/14.440/54. Brussels: Sciensano; 2020. doi: 10.25608/xkg3-xz50
  4. Quatrième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2020/14.440/80. Brussels: Sciensano; 2020. doi: 10.25608/jmgf-2028
  5. Cinquième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2020/14.440/96. Brussels: Sciensano; 2020. doi: 10.25608/xcxd-7784
  6. Sixième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2021/14.440/30. Brussels: Sciensano; 2021. doi: 10.25608/j877-kf56
  7. Septième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2021/14.440/50. Brussels: Sciensano; 2021. doi: 10.25608/ht7a-8923
  8. Huitième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2021/14.440/82. Brussels: Sciensano; 2021. doi: 10.25608/hqy9-m065
  9. Neuvième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2022/14.440/3. Brussels: Sciensano; 2022. doi: 10.25608/evrs-je22
  10. Dixième enquête de santé COVID-19 : résultats préliminaires. Deposit number D/2022/14.440/18. Brussels: Sciensano; 2022. doi: 10.25608/mve9-bk51
  11. Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2018. https://www.sciensano.be/en/projects/health-interview-survey