An empty restaurant
On March 11 2020, Denmark initiated nationwide closures of public institutions, and also public spaces like restaurants, malls and hairdressers. Photo: Birgit Reitz-Hofmann/Mostphotos

“We saw that in the weeks following lockdown people on average reported lower probability of being considered at risk of developing stress and depression. And they did not report increased risk of substantial functional impairment compared to the weeks before lockdown. It was especially families with children who saw a decrease in the risk of stress and depression” said Peter Fallesen, senior researcher in sociology at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University and a director of research at the ROCKWOOL Foundation, and one of the authors of the study.

A representative group of adult Danes answered questions of a survey from late February 2020, when Covid-19 still was not considered an issue in Northern Europe, to late March 2020 when Denmark was in lockdown. The study uses clinically validated indexes to measure risk of stress and depression and functional impairment. A follow up survey was given to the same people in July, 2020 after the end of the first lockdown.

Researcher Peter Fallesen, Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI)
Peter Fallesen, Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI)

“At this time people still reported lower probability of being at risk of developing clinical stress and depression than they had been prior to the March lockdown. However, people also reported an increased degree of functional impairment of their everyday life, indicating that life had become more difficult after the first four months of the pandemic”, said Peter Fallesen

The study is based on responses from around 2,800 Danes who participated in the survey in March. Of these, around 1,500 also participated in the follow-up round in July. The researchers also ruled out that factors like age, gender, and living situation could explain the findings. The study is one of the few that have been able to collect data across a period that spanned both the time just before the virus arrived and the period of most intense lockdown. It is also the among the only ones that had access to clinically validated measures of mental health.

“A number of studies found lower mental health reported after the pandemic began than previous years – but these results may also reflect general time trends, and 2020 was already a tumultuous year prior to the pandemic, so without a good control group it can be hard to disentangle a general trend from impact of the pandemic”, said Peter Fallesen.


No increase – researchers suprised

Previous research on how communities react when external crises occur points to a so called “honeymoon effect” on mental health, where mental health problems decrease in the immediate wake of the crises and then increase over time. But overall, the researchers were somewhat surprised that they didn’t find an increase in levels of despair in society, regarding the magnitude of the Covid-19 crisis. They find possible explanations in the Danish society and in the country’s corona strategy.
“Denmark weathered the first wave of Covid-19 somewhat unscathed, and has an extensive social safety net in place, so fewer people than elsewhere experienced direct threats to live and livelihood, and Denmark had some of the mildest lockdown restrictions across Europe. In addition, like most other people in the Nordics, the Danes already spend a lot of time at home, so the lockdown measures may not have felt very invasive”, said Peter Fallesen.


Facts: The lockdown in Denmark

On March 11, Denmark initiated nationwide school closures and the closing of public institutions, and in the following 6 days borders closed, as did restaurants, malls and hairdressers, and the government issued a general encouragements to work from home. Unlike other European countries, Denmark did not introduce curfews, stay-home orders, or mandatory use of masks during the Spring lockdown.


Read more about the research

Andersen, L.H., Fallesen, P. & Bruckner, T.A. Risk of stress/depression and functional impairment in Denmark immediately following a COVID-19 shutdown. BMC Public Health 21, 984 (2021).



Peter Fallesen
Ph.D in sociology
Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI)
Stockholm University
Tel: +45 61333184