COVID-19: Huge Rise in Psychological Distress for US Adults

Shirley Amy
July 13, 2020

The disruptions of the pandemic such as social distancing, fear of contracting the disease, economic uncertainty and high unemployment have negatively affected mental health.

corona psychological effects

This headline, which reflects research carried out by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, is not likely to be a surprise for anyone. As the very negative COVID news is disseminated day in and day out, this scenario is likely to get far worse.

Results from this recent John Hopkin’s survey involving 1,468 adults aged 18+, was conducted online between April 7 to April 13, and published in JAMA, determined that there is a more-than-threefold increase in the percentage of US adults who reported symptoms of psychological distress; from 3.9 percent in 2018 to 13.6 percent in April 2020. Further, the share of Americans (between age 18 and 29) who complained of mental distress, shot up from 3.7 % in 2018, to 24% in 2020.

Grim Statistics

As usual, those with lower household incomes are in the firing line, with other survey results showing that 19.3% of adults with annual household incomes less than $35,000 reported psychological distress in 2020 compared to 7.9% in 2018, an increase of 11.4%. Nearly one-fifth, or 18.3% of Hispanic adults, reported psychological distress in 2020 compared to 4.4% in 2018, a more than four-fold increase of 13.9%.

Moreover, the John Hopkin’s scientists determined that mental distress in adults aged 55-plus, increased from 3.8% in 2018 to 7.3% this year. Of note, feeling lonely, was not shown to drive increased mental distress. In fact, there was just a minor increase in feeling lonesome from 11% (2018) to 13.8% this year.

Research Method

A particular scale was used to gauge participants’ feelings of emotional suffering and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the past 30 days. The questions were not specifically designed to address coronavirus. The scale which served as a valid measurement of the participants’ mental distress, is known to accurately foretell clinical analyzes of serious mental illness.

The Way Forward

One of the research authors, Emma E. McGinty, stated, “We need to prepare for higher rates of mental illness among U.S .adults post-COVID. It is especially important to identify mental illness treatment needs and connect people to services, with a focus on groups with high psychological distress including young adults, adults in low-income households, and Hispanics.”

McGinty, also went on to say that the research indicates that the distress experienced during COVID-19 may transfer to longer-term psychiatric disorders requiring clinical care. Health care providers, educators, social workers, and other front-line providers can help promote mental wellness and support. This is essential, however, budgets are now far less than they were, and so there needs to be a collective effort, and altruism. There are truly great people and organizations out there, and then there are friends and family, who can also play a massive roll in helping their loved ones deal with the dark cloud of psychological distress that affects all of us to some degree or another. Let’s pray it will end soon.

Shirley Amy

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who's published 4 books. Her  interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.

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