The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused an increase in acute stress, depressive symptoms, and consumption of media coverage about the virus across the United States, according to a new study published in Science Advances.1

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 958,000 deaths and there has been over 30.9 million confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. It has led to widespread shutdowns causing many to lose their jobs and sources of income. Schools have closed and those with chronic mental and physical illnesses have been left especially vulnerable.

The study was comprised of more than 6500 individuals from 3 nationally representative cohorts. Investigators analyzed increased symptoms associated with acute stress and depression, including symptoms related to preexisting mental and physical health conditions. Investigators also examined secondary stressors, such as job and wage loss.2

The study showed that individuals with preexisting mental and physical conditions were more likely to show symptoms of both acute stress and depression.1 Secondary stressors, such as wage and job loss, and a shortage of basic necessities also were strong predictors for the development of symptoms, according to the study. 

Symptoms increased between mid-March and mid-April, when the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths began to skyrocket. Those surveyed latest in the study had the highest rates of acute stress and depressive symptoms.1  

"The pandemic is not hitting all communities equally," said lead author E. Alison Holman, PhD, University of California Irvine professor of nursing, in a press release.1 "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."

Media exposure was also found to be a predicative factor for pandemic-specific acute stress. Extensive exposure, along with conflicting information, were among the strongest predicative factors, according to the study. 

Reference:
  1. Study links rising stress, depression in US to pandemic-related losses, media consumption [News Release] September 18, 2020. Irvine, CA. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/uoc--slr091820.php. Accessed September 21, 2020. 
  2. US adults experienced increased COVID-19-related mental health challenges as the pandemic unfolded [News Release] September 18, 2020. Irvine, CA. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/aaft-uae091820.php. Accessed September 21, 2020.