The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and psychological trauma among American adults, according to 3 new studies published by sociologists at the University of Arkansas.

Researchers surveyed 10,368 adults from across the country to better understand the sociological and psychological effects of the pandemic. All 3 studies are part of an initial push to understand the sociological impacts of COVID-19. Although there were many findings, fear was the common denominator, according to the study.

“Fear is a pretty consistent predictor,” said first author Kevin Fitzpatrick, PhD, in a statement. “What we found is that fear, coupled with a range of social vulnerabilities, consistently and significantly predict a range of mental health outcomes. Additionally, as originally hypothesized, it appears as though individual fear is higher in those places where there is a higher concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases and/or a higher death rate.”

In the first study, which focused on the symptoms of depression, researchers found that, on average, survey respondents scored 1 point higher than the cutoff for clinical significance on a commonly used depression scale. Nearly one-third of respondents were significantly above that level and elevated symptoms were most common among socially vulnerable groups, including women, Hispanic respondents, those who were unemployed, and those who reported moderate to high levels of food insecurity.

The second study focused on suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and actions. In that study, investigators found that 15% of all respondents were categorized as high risk for suicide. On a symptom assessment of suicide risk, Black, Hispanic, and Native American respondents scored higher than their counterparts, as well as families with children, unmarried respondents, and younger respondents. Compounding factors such as food insecurity and physical health symptoms also increased the risk of suicide.

Finally, the third study examined fear and mental health consequences of the pandemic. When asked how fearful they were of COVID-19 on a scale of 1 to 10, the average answer from respondents was 7. However, the researchers found that fear of the disease and its consequences is highest in areas with a greater concentration of cases and among the most socially vulnerable groups.

“In short, fear of the virus, and subsequent mental health problems that follow, remain entangled with the types of policies and measures used to combat the virus, both now and as recovery continues to unfold and the United States begins to slowly move forward,” the researchers wrote in a press release.

The press release added that although the pandemic is continuing to evolve, the research demonstrates a need to understand the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

“Now is the time to learn the lessons about this pandemic,” Fitzpatrick said in the release. “This needs to be a teaching moment for us all. It or something like it will come along again, and we need to be better prepared for it, making sure that science is front and center, and not politics, with a careful eye on who are the most vulnerable and how can we do a better job of protecting them.”

REFERENCE
Pandemic Leads to Higher Depression, Anxiety and Fear, Studies Show [news release]. University of Arkansas, July 31, 2020. https://news.uark.edu/articles/54334/pandemic-leads-to-higher-depression-anxiety-and-fear-studies-show. Accessed August 6, 2020.