Covid-19: Stress in first month of pandemic equals that felt over previous year: study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 05, 2021

Among people below 60 years the distress may be driven more by economic stress factors

The coronavirus pandemic creates a large spike in significant psychological distress, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The study revealed that the stress triggered by the pandemic in the first month alone is equal to the summation of the stress borne in all months of the previous year.

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

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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 per cent reported distress during the pandemic while among people with low or no distress prior to the pandemic, just 3 per cent reported distress during the pandemic.

The findings are published online by the journal Preventive Medicine.

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Economic stressors

Lead author Joshua Breslau, a senior behavioural scientist at RAND, a non-profit research organisation, said: “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.”

The study found there was a higher risk of an increase in psychological distress among people younger than age 60. This suggested 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.

For the survey study, participants were surveyed in February 2019 and again in May 2020, about eight 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.

Researchers found that the past-month prevalence of serious psychological distress reported by participants of the second survey was as high (10.9 per cent) as the past-year prevalence reported by individuals in the first survey (10.2 per cent).

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 per cent of the participants reported higher levels of psychological distress during the second survey as compared to the first. Increases in distress was more common among women compared with men.

Published on January 05, 2021

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