Background: The outbreak of COVID-19 with its severe social restrictions touched the daily life of most people. While everyday social life becomes difficult for citizens with economic and cultural capital, it becomes even worse for vulnerable groups such as persons with mental health and substance use disorders, who are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion. The aim of this study is to investigate how the first COVID-19 lockdown affected the everyday life and health of persons with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

Methods: This qualitative study reports data from 17 individual interviews and one focus group of five participants, all with a self-reported mental health and substance use disorder. Interviews were conducted based on a semi-structured interview guide in September and October 2020 in a medium-sized local authority in Norway. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. A reference group of people with varied knowledge and experiences of the phenomenon were involved in study design, recruitment, data generation and analysis.

Results: The analysis identified four interrelated main themes, describing how the first lockdown affected the everyday life and health of persons suffering from a mental health and substance use disorder: 1) The COVID-19 outbreak as a perceived challenge, 2) A decline in mental health and well-being, 3) Increased substance use challenges, and 4) Diverse experiences with health and social services. The results show that people with a co-occurring disorder have challenges with digital tools and/or do not have the appropriate equipment. Further, participants were not concerned about becoming infected themselves, but infecting others.

Conclusions: Persons with a mental health and substance use disorder face major challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need to maintain continuous low-threshold services especially directed towards persons with co-occurring disorders during the pandemic. Furthermore, it is important to improve the digital skills of every service user or offer alternatives to digital consultations and meetings.


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Cite as

Leonhardt, M., Brodahl, M., Cogan, N. & Lien, L. 2022, 'How did the first COVID-19 lockdown affect persons with concurrent mental health and substance use disorders in Norway? A qualitative study', BMC Psychiatry, 22, article no: 179. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-03812-7

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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