COVID-19 impacting communities' mental health unequally based on specific stressors faced
Specific stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic were linked to rising rates of acute stress and depressive symptoms throughout the United States, according to results of a nationally representative study published in Science Advances.
The findings also highlighted the mental health effects of media coverage of the pandemic.
“The pandemic is not hitting all communities equally,” E. Alison Holman, PhD, FNP, associate professor at University of California, Irvine’s Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, said in a press release. “People have lost wages, jobs and loved ones with record speed. Individuals living with chronic mental and physical illness are struggling; young people are struggling; poor communities are struggling. Mental health services need to be tailored to those most in need right now.”
According to Holman and colleagues, empirical investigations regarding the pandemic’s collective mental health trauma are warranted since they currently represent less than 3% of the published literature. Further, they noted significant flaws among published studies in this area, including a lack of methodologically rigorous probability-based sampling to allow for population inferences.
To address research gaps and flaws, the investigators obtained survey data related to acute stress, depressive symptoms and media-based exposures to COVID-19 of more than 6,500 U.S. residents between March and April, while COVID-19-related deaths and illness were rising. They drew participants from NORC’s AmeriSpeak panel, which contains data of 35,000 U.S. households.
Results showed a significant increase in acute stress and depressive symptoms associated with rising COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. Factors related to this increase included preexisting mental and physical health diagnoses, daily hours of media exposure related to COVID-19, exposure to media-based conflicting COVID-19 information and secondary stressors, such as job/wage loss and a shortage of necessities.
Extensive exposure to conflicting information in the news and overall pandemic-related news were among the strongest predictors of acute stress related to the pandemic.
“It’s critical that we prioritize providing resources to communities most in need of support right now — the unemployed, poor or chronically ill people, and young people,” Holman said in the release. “We also encourage the public to limit exposure to media as an important public health intervention. It can prevent mental and physical health symptoms and promote resilience.”