Psychotropic drug purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy and their relationship with mobility restrictions


A recent literature investigating mental health consequences of social distancing measures, has found a substantial increase in self-reported sleep and anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms during lockdown periods. These evidence are in contrast with the results we obtain using data on monthly purchases of psychiatric drugs by the universe of Italian pharmacies over the period of interest. We argue that this discrepancy has three potential causes: i) use of non-pharmaceutical therapies and non-medical solutions during lockdown periods; ii) unmet needs due to both demand- and supply-side shortages in healthcare services and iii) the subjectivity of self-assessed psychological health in survey studies, capturing also mild mental distress which might not evolve into mental disorder needing pharmacological treatment. This last point seems to be confirmed by the lack of statistical significance of any measure of mobility change and reason of mobility (which we proxy with mobile phone data) on antidepressants and anxiolytics purchases during the entire 2020 period.

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