Rising stress, depression in US linked to pandemic-related losses, media consumption

September 27, 2020

Listen to this article

Rising stress, depression in US linked to pandemic-related losses, media consumption

Experiencing multiple stressors triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic—such as unemployment—and  COVID-19-related media consumption are directly linked to rising acute stress and depressive symptoms across the U.S., according to a groundbreaking study.

The report appears in the journal Science Advances.

What the researchers say: “The pandemic is not hitting all communities equally,” said the lead author. “People have lost wages, jobs and loved ones with record speed. Individuals 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 research 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. This was something that Alicia and I first flagged in our best-selling books “Raising an Optimistic Child,” and “Creating Optimism.”

“The media is a critical source of information for people when they’re faced with ambiguous, ongoing disasters,” said the lead researcher. “But too much exposure can be overwhelming and lead to more stress, worry and perceived risks.”

The researchers conducted 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. The study 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.

“Over the course of the study, the size of the pandemic shifted dramatically,” the researchers said. Accordingly, people surveyed later in the study period reported the highest rate of acute stress and depressive symptoms.

The team’s findings offer insights into priorities for building community or organization-wide 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.

“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,” the researchers concluded. “We 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.”

So, what? More than anything else, I believe, it is the politicization of the virus in a number of the worst-hit countries such as the USA, Brazil, the UK and India that has exacerbated the spread and the duration of the current plague. We knew from the first how to stop it, we didn’t. Instead, our politicians fed the public information they knew to be false in order to keep the markets alive or win elections.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

Join the discussion

Join our tribe

Subscribe to Dr. Bob Murray’s Today’s Research, a free weekly roundup of the latest research in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Explore leadership, strategy, culture, business and social trends, and executive health.

Thank you for subscribing.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Check your details and try again.