Researchers at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore reported that 1 in 3 adults, particularly women, younger adults, and those of lower socioeconomic status, are experiencing psychological distress related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the burden of psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and insomnia. However, the factors that are associated with increased susceptibility to psychological distress among adults in the general population during COVID-19 are not yet well known, according to the study authors.

"Understanding these factors is crucial for designing preventive programs and mental health resource planning during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak," said study leader and professor Tazeen Jafar, in a press release. "These factors could be used to identify populations at high risk of psychological distress so they can be offered targeted remote and in-person interventions."

The research team performed a meta-analysis of 68 studies conducted during the pandemic, including 288,830 participants from 19 countries to assess risk factors associated with anxiety and depression among the general population. The findings showed that among the people most affected by COVID-19-related anxiety or depression, women, younger adults, individuals of lower socioeconomic status, those living in rural areas, and those at high risk of COVID-19 infection were more likely to experience psychological distress, according to the study authors.

Other global studies were consistent with this study, discovering that women were more likely to experience psychological distress than men.

"The lower social status of women and less preferential access to healthcare compared to men could potentially be responsible for the exaggerated adverse psychosocial impact on women," the research team wrote in a press release. "Thus, outreach programs for mental health services must target women proactively."

The study found that younger adults, 35 years of age and under, were more likely to experience psychological distress than those over 35 years of age. Previous studies have suggested that it might be due to younger people’s greater access to COVID-19 information through the media. In the current study, longer media exposure was associated with higher odds of anxiety and depression.

Other factors associated with psychological distress included living in rural areas, lower education, lower income or unemployment, and being at high risk of COVID-19 infection. However, having stronger family and social support and using positive coping strategies were shown to reduce the risk of psychological distress, according to the study.

"The general public and healthcare professionals need to be aware of the high burden of psychological distress during the pandemic as well as education on coping strategies," Jafar said in a press release. "Patients need to be encouraged to seek help, and access mental health counselling services with appropriate referrals.”

COVID-19: 1 in 3 adults anxious, depressed. EurekAlert! Published January 28, 2021. Accessed January 29, 2021.