Psychological Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Among Italians During the First Week of Lockdown

Mariagrazia Di Giuseppe, Sigal Zilcha-Mano, Tracy A. Prout, John Christopher Perry, Graziella Orrù, Ciro Conversano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pandemics and government-mandated quarantining measures have a substantial impact on mental health. This study investigated the psychological impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis on Italian residents during the first week of government-imposed lockdown and the role of defense mechanisms as protective factors against distress. In this cross-sectional study, 5,683 Italians responded to an online survey assessing socio-demographics, overall psychological distress, post-traumatic symptoms, and defense mechanisms using validated measures as the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90), the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), and the Defense Mechanisms Rating Scale-Self-Report-30 (DMRS-SR-30). Data were collected from March 13 to March 18, within the first week of lockdown in Italy. Results showed that younger age and female gender were associated with increased psychological distress. Having positive cases nearby, more days on lockdown, and having to relocate were also associated with greater distress. Higher overall defensive functioning (ODF) was associated with lower levels of depression (r = −.44, 95% CI −0.48, −0.40), anxiety (r = −.38, 95% CI −0.42, −0.35), and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) (r = −.34, 95% CI −0.38, −0.30). Conversely, less adaptive defensive functioning was related to greater affective distress across all domains. Each increased unit of ODF decreased the chances of developing post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) by 71% (odds ratio = 0.29, p < 0.001, 95% CI.026,.032). The psychological impact of COVID-19 among Italians during the early weeks of government lockdown has been significant. The pandemic continues to have extraordinary mental health impact as it moves across the globe. Given the salience of defensive functioning in psychological distress, consideration of interventions that foster the use of more adaptive defenses may be an important component of building resilience amidst a pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number576597
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - 30 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Di Giuseppe, Zilcha-Mano, Prout, Perry, Orrù and Conversano.


  • coronavirus disease 2019
  • defense mechanisms
  • emotion regulation
  • lockdown
  • pandemic (COVID-19)
  • post-traumatic stress
  • psychological distress
  • quarantine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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