New study reveals extent of psychological distress resulting from Covid-19 pandemic

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  • A recent study assessed the psychological distress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic  
  • People experienced the same amount of distress in 30 days as experienced in an entire year before the pandemic 
  • Individuals younger than 60 were most at risk, suggesting that the stressors were largely economic

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life on a global scale faster and more severely than any previous economic recession or natural disaster, resulting in significant psychological distress.

A new longitudinal study, published in Preventative Medicine, has revealed that the first month of the pandemic caused as much distress in American individuals as experienced during the entire previous year.

The researchers used longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of US adults over the age of 20 to compare psychological distress during the first two months of the pandemic with the highest level of distress experienced during the year before the pandemic.

The baseline survey, according to the researchers, was conducted in February 2019 and the survey focusing on the pandemic was conducted in May 2020, eight weeks after the declaration of the national emergency in the US. 

Measuring distress

Researchers assessed psychological distress by using the Kessler-6 (K6), which is an instrument commonly used to determine clinically significant psychiatric conditions, the study explains.

According to the study, the researchers found that the prevalence of psychological distress during the pandemic “exceeded levels that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic”.

Moreover, the study states that people experienced the same amount of psychological distress in 30 days of the pandemic as experienced over an entire year before the pandemic. 

The researchers also found an increased prevalence of psychological distress across all demographic groups in the sample, which makes the pandemic the most persistent and complex stressor that has affected the US population, the study explains. 

Younger people report more psychological distress 

Findings from the research reveal that the risk of psychological distress was higher among participants younger than 60. 

“Distress may be driven more by economic stressors than fears specific to the disease, since older individuals are widely reported to be at higher risk of morbidity and mortality related to the virus,” the researchers state. 

Although previous research suggests that those who experience psychological distress following a disaster will return to pre-disaster levels over time, the researchers state that the pandemic’s effects may continue for an extended period. 

“Tracing patterns of persistence of serious psychological distress will provide important information to guide the national public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the researchers concluded. 

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READ | Mental health effects of Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown - and concern over suicide risk

Image credit: Getty Images

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