New National Survey on Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
(Boston, MA)– The findings of a nationwide survey assessing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the emotional wellbeing of the U.S. adult population have been released online. The survey was a collaboration between University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, and was quickly organized to gain an understanding of how individuals are responding to the stressors of isolation and quarantine, record unemployment levels, and the virus’ threat to their health.
“The pandemic reached across all groups and our concern is that many of the mental health impacts will not be addressed as quickly and could lead to longer term damage. Especially for underserved and vulnerable populations these issues could be magnified. Our goal was to begin to get an understanding of the problem and how we can begin to address it,” said Sarah Gray, Psy.D. study co-author. Dr. Gray serves as an Instructor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, a Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a Clinical Health Psychologist and Director of Outpatient Rehabilitation Psychology with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation in Boston, and Director at Integrative Psychology, PC.
The study consisted of a nationwide internet survey of 1,500 people conducted during the second half of May, when the pandemic was just beyond its peak in the nation. It is worth noting that the survey ended on May 30, five days after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minnesota. Nearly 90 percent of survey responses were collected before the movement across the U.S. to increase recognition of systemic racism.
“Our team found levels of concern or worry differed among different demographics including age and race,” Gray said. “While women and men tended to have similar levels of worry, we did find younger people had higher rates of anxiety and the Hispanic population seemed to be the most impacted emotionally when comparing ethnic groups.”
The study assessed a broad range of specific emotional effects related to the pandemic, and found that there were stressors that seemed to affect a majority of the population. Nearly 80 percent of respondents were frustrated on some level with not being able to do what they normally enjoy doing. Around the same number were worried about their own health, and nearly 90 percent of those surveyed were more worried about the health of loved ones than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People who stated that they personally knew someone who had died from COVID-19, perhaps a family member with chronic conditions or at higher-risk, had higher average distress scores overall. While we have provided support clinically for high risk populations there does seem to a need to also support the mental health of their families and care takers,” said Gray.
The emotional and mental impact of the pandemic could have long-term implications on well-being. Dr. Gray and co-authors Sarah Ballou, PhD, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of gastrointestinal psychology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and principal investigator Olafur Palsson, PsyD, professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology in the UNC School of Medicine, wanted to get the results of the study out as quickly as possible to aid in addressing what could be a growing mental health crisis.
“The mental health effects of this pandemic have taken a back seat to the urgent response however there is great concern with allowing that to continue.,” Gray said. “Our survey findings indicate that the anxiety and depression related to the emotional impact of these events are pushing more and more people into the clinical category of what is diagnosable as a mental health condition. Our team urges people to not wait and reach out for the care and help they need.”
A list of resources is available on the study’s website, along with a downloadable version of the study’s findings.