UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Behavioral Medicine | Health Psychology | Infectious Disease | International Public Health | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Virus Diseases


Background: The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the physical and mental health of people everywhere. The aim of the study is to understand how people living in 15 countries around the globe experience an unexpected crisis which threatens their health and that of loved ones, and how they make meaning of this disruption in their narratives.

Methods: Data were collected through an anonymous online survey during May-September 2020, which was during or just after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on the country. The questionnaire included demographic and three open-ended questions as prompts for stories about experiences during the initial months of the pandemic. The text was analyzed through inductive thematic content analysis and quantified for full sample description, demographic and subsequently international comparisons.

Results: The final qualitative dataset included stories from n = 1685 respondents. The sample was 73.6% women and 26.4% men. The mean age of participants was 39.55 years (SD = 14.71). The identified four groups of overarching themes were: The presence and absence of others; Rediscovering oneself; The meaning of daily life; Rethinking societal and environmental values. We discuss the prevalence of each theme for the sample as a whole and differences by demographic groups. The most prevalent theme referred to disruptions in interpersonal contacts, made meaningful by the increased appreciation of the value of relationships, present in (45.6%) of stories. It was more prevalent in the stories of women compared to men (chi(2) = 24.88, p = .001).

Conclusions: The paper provides a detailed overview of the methodology, the main themes identified inductively in the stories and differences according to select demographic variables. We identify several major ways of making meaning of the pandemic. The pandemic has impacted many aspects of people's lives which give it meaning, no matter where they live.


COVID 19 pandemic, Cross-culture study, meaning making, mixed-methods research, thematic analysis

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Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI of Published Version



Todorova I, Albers L, Aronson N, Baban A, Benyamini Y, Cipolletta S, Del Rio Carral M, Dimitrova E, Dudley C, Guzzardo M, Hammoud R, Fadil Azim DH, Hilverda F, Huang Q, John L, Kaneva M, Khan S, Kostova Z, Kotzeva T, Fathima MA, Anto MM, Michoud C, Awal Miah MA, Mohr J, Morgan K, Nastase ES, Neter E, Panayotova Y, Patel H, Pillai D, Polidoro Lima M, Qin DB, Salewski C, Sankar KA, Shao S, Suresh J, Todorova R, Tomaino SCM, Vollmann M, Winter D, Xie M, Xuan Ning S, Zlatarska A. "What I thought was so important isn't really that important": international perspectives on making meaning during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health Psychol Behav Med. 2021 Oct 11;9(1):830-857. doi: 10.1080/21642850.2021.1981909. PMID: 34650834; PMCID: PMC8510597. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Health psychology and behavioral medicine


Full author list omitted for brevity. For the full list of authors, see article.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License