Rising acute stress and depressive symptoms across the US are linked to experiencing multiple stressors triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as unemployment and extensive exposure to pandemic-related news, says a new study.
The results, published in the journal Science Advances, suggest the need to step away from the television, computer or smartphone to protect psychological well-being.
“The pandemic is not hitting all communities equally,” said lead author E. Alison Holman, Professor at the University of California, Irvine.
“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.”
For the study, the researchers conducted a national survey of more than 6,500 US residents in March and April 2020, as illness and deaths were rising around the country.
“Over the course of the study, the size of the pandemic shifted dramatically,” Holman said.
Accordingly, people surveyed later in the study period reported the highest rate of acute stress and depressive symptoms.
The research showed that those with pre-existing mental and physical conditions are more likely to show both acute stress and depressive symptoms.
Secondary stressors — job and wage loss, a shortage of necessities — are also strong predictors in the development of these symptoms.
Extensive exposure to pandemic-related news and conflicting information in the news are among the strongest predictors of pandemic-specific acute stress, the results showed.
“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.
“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.”