Psychological distress during first months of pandemic equal to that during prior year

January 04, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic is creating a large spike in significant psychological distress among Americans, with the first month of the pandemic causing as much distress in the same number of individuals that experienced it during the whole previous year, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Findings from the first longitudinal study of psychological distress during the pandemic show that among a representative sample of Americans, more than 10% reported experiencing symptoms of significant psychological distress during April and May of 2020 -- the same amount they reported experiencing over an entire year during a survey conducted a year earlier.

The study also found that people with distress prior to the pandemic were more likely to report distress during the pandemic. Among people with severe distress prior to the pandemic, 48% reported distress during the pandemic while among people with low or no distress prior to the pandemic, just 3% reported distress during the pandemic.

The findings are published online by the journal Preventive Medicine.

"We found equal numbers of people experienced serious psychological distress over 30 days during the pandemic as did over an entire year prior to the pandemic," said Joshua Breslau, the study's lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The study found there was a higher risk of an increase in psychological distress among people younger than age 60, suggesting that the distress may be driven more by economic stressors than fears specific to the disease, since older individuals are at higher risk of serious illness and death from the virus.

The survey was fielded using the RAND American Life Panel, a nationally representative internet panel. Participants were surveyed in February 2019 and again in May 2020, about 8 weeks after the declaration of a national emergency. There were 2,555 respondents to the first wave of the survey and 1,870 respondents to the second wave.

During each survey, participants were asked about their level of psychological distress at various points over the prior year using standard research assessment tools.

Researchers found that the past-month prevalence of serious psychological distress reported by participants of the second survey was as high (10.9%) as the past-year prevalence reported by individuals in the first survey (10.2%). Previous research has found that the 30-day prevalence of significant distress typically is about half the 12-month prevalence when both are assessed at the same time.

More than 12% of the participants reported higher levels of psychological distress during the second survey as compared to the first. Increases in distress were more common among women compared with men, those under 60 compared with those over 60, and Hispanic people compared with people of other racial/ethnic groups.

"Elevated psychological distress has been observed during prior disasters, but it has never before been seen as a persistent and complex stressor affecting the entire U.S. population," Breslau said. "Policymakers should consider targeting services to population groups at high risk for elevated psychological distress during the pandemic, including people vulnerable to the economic consequences of social distancing."
Support for the study was provided by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Other authors of the study are Melissa L. Finucane, Alicia R. Locker, Matthew Baird, Elizabeth Roth and Rebecca L. Collins.

RAND Health Care promotes healthier societies by improving health care systems in the United States and other countries.

RAND Corporation

Related Pandemic Articles from Brightsurf:

Areas where the next pandemic could emerge are revealed
An international team of human- and animal health experts has incorporated environmental, social and economic considerations -- including air transit centrality - to identify key areas at risk of leading to the next pandemic.

Narcissists love being pandemic 'essential workers'
There's one group of essential workers who especially enjoy being called a ''hero'' during the COVID-19 pandemic: narcissists.

COVID-19: Air quality influences the pandemic
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Geneva and the ETH Z├╝rich spin-off Meteodat investigated possible interactions between acutely elevated levels of fine particulate matter and the virulence of the coronavirus disease.

People who purchased firearms during pandemic more likely to be suicidal
People who purchase a firearm during the pandemic are more likely to be suicidal than other firearm owners, according to a Rutgers study.

Measles outbreaks likely in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
Major measles outbreaks will likely occur during 2021 as an unexpected consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new academic article.

The COVID-19 pandemic: How US universities responded
A new George Mason University study found that the majority of university announcements occurred on the same day as the World Health Organization's pandemic declaration.

Researchers find evidence of pandemic fatigue
A new study from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology shows that the behavioral responses to COVID-19 differed by age.

Excessive alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic
The full impact of COVID-19 on alcohol use is not yet known, but rates have been rising during the first few months of the pandemic.

How fear encourages physical distancing during pandemic
Despite guidelines plastered on the walls and floors of grocery and retail stores encouraging customers to maintain six-feet of physical distance during the pandemic, many do not.

COVID-19 pandemic and $16 trillion virus
This Viewpoint aggregates mortality, morbidity, mental health conditions, and direct economic losses to estimate the total cost of the pandemic in the US on the optimistic assumption that it will be substantially contained by the fall of 2021.

Read More: Pandemic News and Pandemic Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to