Face masks may positively affect mental wellbeing, new research suggests

A team of researchers has found that wearing a face mask or face covering positively affects mental wellbeing, challenging some previously held beliefs that wearing a face covering negatively impacts mental health.

The research by the University of Edinburgh is not yet peer-reviewed, but says: "Stronger adherence to guidelines is associated with less anxiety and loneliness and higher life satisfaction and wellbeing.

"Moreover, the relationships among wearing face coverings and having better mental health and wellbeing could not be explained by relevant psychological, medical, sociodemographic, or behavioral factors."

It suggests the odds of low wellbeing were 62 percent lower among individuals who say they always wear a face covering.

If a mask is worn correctly, it is scientifically proven to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the spread of droplets from coughs, sneezing and speaking.

The research from The University of Edinburgh shows that low wellbeing is 62% lower among people who say they always wear a face mask or covering. (Photo: AFP)

At least 11,000 people in the UK participated in the study, which took into account participants' mental health pre-pandemic. They were asked to rate their general wellbeing and mental health at different points during the pandemic, as well as answering questions on how stringently they comply with government guidelines on face coverings.

In the UK it is compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport and in all indoor retail and hospitality settings, with limited exceptions, such as when sat down eating in a restaurant.

According to researchers: "Wearing a face covering 'some of the time' was associated with 74 percent lower odds of poor wellbeing compared with those who 'never' adhered."

Other measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing and self isolation, are generally considered to negatively impact mental wellbeing. During the pandemic, there has also been an increase in reports of "loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression and decreases in life satisfaction and wellbeing," according to researchers.

Wearing a mask has divided opinion, with some saying it decreases mental wellbeing due to physical discomfort, breathing difficulty for some people and communication difficulties.

However, the research challenges that view, saying: "This evidence could be an important motivator for continued advocacy by policy makers and adherence by members of the public."