University of Tartu researchers: domestic walls may not offer protection from psychological emergency

In the course of the research conducted by the crisis sociology team of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies, representatives of Estonian care facilities and nearly 60 clients of homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehabilitation centres were interviewed to find out about their experiences during the coronavirus crisis.

The results of the survey revealed that compared to normal population, the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged individuals in society experienced, on average, more psychological problems, stress and depression symptoms caused by the pandemic. “However, like in the general community, also the deprived and marginalised people have coped quite differently,” said Kati Orru, head of the crisis sociology research group.

Three groups were distinguished in the study: home-living clients of care organisations, people in rehabilitation centres, and people living in the streets or in temporary shelters. “It turned out that domestic walls do not offer the best protection from the psychological impact of the pandemic. Compared to people who live in the streets or in rehabilitation centres, people who live at home are more scared and stressed about the situation,” said Orru.

Interviews conducted with employees of relief organisations reveal that homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehabilitation facilities have been tough and have, despite restrictions, managed to offer help to many people, although the number of those in need has multiplied during the corona situation. “They were, however, disturbed by the lack of local government support at the beginning of the crisis, and by the lack of crisis plans and guidelines for their organisations. They also believe that the stigmatisation of homeless people has increased,” Orru added.

The survey also showed that disadvantaged people who trust government agencies and the information supplied by the government are more likely to apply protective measures and avoid contacts, whereas people who live in the streets have clearly lower risk awareness and less trust in information from official sources, and they are also less likely to protect themselves. The most important source of information among all the groups in the survey was television; and TV watchers also trust national information channels more than those who use social media as their main source of information.

The University of Tartu crisis sociology research group will conduct studies based on the same methodology in 14 more countries.

BuildERS (Building European Communities’ Resilience and Social Capital) is an international research and development project. Its partners in Estonia are the University of Tartu, Estonian Rescue Board and OÜ Positium. The project focuses on vulnerable groups as well as communities and their capacity to help their members. Its main goal is to increase citizens’ social capital and thereby their resilience. The project is funded by the EU programme Horizon 2020.

Further information:
Kati Orru, Associate Professor of Sociology of Sustainability, University of Tartu, +372 515 8545,
Kristi Nero, doctoral student in Sociology, University of Tartu, +372 566 5864,