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The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It

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The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It

Rapid Review of the Evidence

The Lancet,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Quarantine has negative psychological effects which can be mitigated by clear information. 

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Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening


The COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the globe, putting much of the world’s population in quarantine. Whether told to self-isolate, shelter in place, or stay within a hundred meters of home, this is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation for most. Smaller groups of people have been in similar circumstances over the past 20 years, and people can learn from the studies of how they fared while they were in quarantine and after they emerged. These studies are invaluable if people want to know what their next few months will likely look like.


Quarantine can have substantial and wide-ranging negative psychological effects.

Large swaths of the world’s Western population are now in some form of quarantine to control COVID-19, and many in Asia are just emerging. This social distancing measure is essential to curb the effects of this pandemic, but it’s trying – and the psychological costs are quite real.

Psychologists at University College London have reviewed studies of how people fared when they were put under quarantine in the recent past, primarily because of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014 and the SARS outbreak in China and Canada in 2003. Their review found that those placed under quarantine were more likely to experience a wide range of negative psychological effects, including acute stress disorder, exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, post-traumatic ...

About the Authors

Samantha K. Brooks, Rebecca K. Webster, Louise E. Smith, Lisa Woodland, Simon Wessely, Neil Greenberg and Gideon James Rubin are in the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London, where they work on the impact of disasters on distress and psychological health disorders, and how people perceive potential health risks.

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