U.S. adults increasingly experienced symptoms associated with acute stress and depression as COVID-19 cases and deaths skyrocketed between mid-March and mid-April 2020, according to a study of more than 6,500 people from three large, nationally representative cohorts (Holman et al. 2020).
These symptoms were related to preexisting mental and physical health conditions, as well as secondary stressors such as job and wage loss.
Acute stress and depressive symptoms were also related to greater COVID-19-related media consumption, a general increase in media consumption during the outbreak, and exposure to conflicting information in the media about the outbreak.
Alison Holman and colleagues suggest these findings may be used to develop targeted public mental health interventions. While the scientific community has largely focused on understanding and treating COVID-19, little research has investigated the accompanying mental health crisis.
Prior studies that examined the pandemic’s mental health implications have relied on non-representative samples from opt-in online panels that may not accurately reflect the nation as a whole.
Between March 18, 2020 and April 18, 2020, Holman et al. assessed acute stress; symptoms of depression; and direct, community, and media-based exposures to COVID-19 in three nationally representative cohorts (a total of more than 6,500 people) in staggered 10-day periods.
Holman et al. found that while personal exposure to COVID-19, such as testing positive for the virus or coping with a close friend or family member’s diagnosis, was associated with heightened anxiety and depression symptoms, community-level exposure was not.
This suggests U.S. adults are more concerned with contracting the virus than dealing with pandemic-induced daily life disruptions.
Holman, E. A., R. R. Thompson, et al. (2020). “The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic: A probability-based, nationally representative study of mental health in the United States.” Science Advances 6(42): eabd5390