Study links rising stress, depression in US to COVID-related losses and media use

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In a new study, researchers found experiencing stressors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—such as unemployment—and COVID-19-related media consumption may increase stress and depression in the U.S.

They found many people have lost wages, jobs, and loved ones with record speed.

People 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.

In addition, the study highlights the connection between mental health and exposure to media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting the need to step away from the television, computer or smartphone to protect psychological well-being.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of California, Irvine.

In the study, the team did a national survey of more than 6,500 U.S. residents in March and April 2020, as illness and deaths were rising around the country.

It was the first of its kind to examine early predictors of rising mental health problems across the nation. The design let researchers evaluate the effects of the pandemic as it was unfolding in real-time.

The UCI team’s findings offer insights into priorities for building community resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic:

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 researchers say that 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.

They 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.

One author of the study is E. Alison Holman, UCI professor of nursing.

The study is published in Science Advances.

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