Response to the coronavirus goes beyond hoarding and panic-buying. The anxiety and fear of the new disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in people. Not to mention that public health actions, including social distancing, can make people feel lonely and isolated and can increase their stress. When it comes to worrying about the pandemic, a new study finds that people are more worried about whether their family members could contract the virus or if they are unknowingly infecting others.
Resilience and Covid-19-related stress
Ran Barzilay from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and colleagues said that the pandemic is a global calamity but it has also posed an unprecedented opportunity to conduct a study about resilience. This is why they created a brief resilience survey probing emotion-regulation, self-reliance, and interpersonal-relationship patterns as well as neighborhood-environment and applied it during the acute Covid-19 outbreak from April 6 to 15.
In collaboration with researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the team launched an online survey through crowdsourcing research website covid19resilience.org. They evaluated the participants’ stress or worries regarding Covid-19. These worries include contracting, dying from, currently having, family member contract, or unknowingly infecting others as well as experiencing significant financial burden due to the pandemic.
A total of 3,042 participants from the US and Israel ranging from 18 to 79 years old participated in the survey. Most of them were living in areas with active-stay-at-home orders when the online survey was conducted. Approximately 20% of the participants’ responses were measured for depression and anxiety.
The authors found that distress about family members contracting the virus (48.5%) and unknowingly infecting others (36%) outweigh their worries associated with contracting the virus themselves (19.9%), as published by Medical Xpress. Rates of depression (16.1%) and anxiety (22.2%) were not significantly different between healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers.
Lead author Barzilay said that our frontline healthcare workers are acutely aware of the mental health challenges that are facing everyone right now. This is why there is an urgent need to gauge the role of resilience and its effects as well as determine how future studies could guide the world in improving health under changing circumstances.
Importance of resilience
Harvard University, which is not involved in the study, published that resilience can help people get through and overcome hardship. However, resilience is not something people are born with. It is built over time as the experiences we have to interact with our individual and unique genetic makeup. This is why people respond to adversity and stress, like the pandemic, differently.
Think of a balance scale or a seesaw. For some people, their resilience scale may tip the scale toward the negative outcomes: closed schools, physical distancing, job loss, and loved ones with a virus. The positive outcome, scales include the following: stable housing, unemployment benefits, and responsive relationships. “Everyone’s fulcrum is in a different spot,” the Harvard University added. What people can do to build up and strengthen their resilience right now during the outbreak is to adapt and find solutions. They can unload the negative side, such as removing the sources of stress. They can also load up the positive side, such as supporting responsive relationships.
In the study of Barzilay and colleagues, they even found that respondents with higher resilience scores had lower Covid-19-related stress or worries and have a reduced rate of depression (69%) and anxiety (65%) across healthcare and non-healthcare professionals.
“Resilience helps reduce these worries,” Raquel Gur, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, said. The co-author hopes that as soon as people get a better grasp of what constitutes resilience during a pandemic, they can soon inform interventions that will also improve resilience. Thus, it can help mitigate the adverse effects of Covid-19 on people’s mental health.
The authors continue to gather data for the survey as the pandemic is not over yet. Their survey has already been translated into Hebrew, French, and Spanish. The researchers likewise hope to collect more information from people around the globe to shed the long-term effects of the pandemic in a high-stress environment.
Concern about the Covid-19 pandemic
In another survey comprising 21, 397 respondents from US, UK, and Germany, database company Statista shares that the highest share of respondents worried about the pandemic was in the UK and the US, where 46% and 56% of the respondents said they were most worried because of the Covid-19.
As of May 31, 28% of respondents in Germany, 46% in the UK, and 56% in the US were most worried about the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that people who are financially affected by the Covid-19 outbreak are also experiencing more psychological distress than others. Nearly one in five Americans say they have had a physical reaction when thinking about the outbreak. Some 18% said they felt nervous, anxious, or on the edge most or all of the time (5-7 days), 25% said they share the same feeling only occasionally, 30% said some or a little of the time (1-2 days), and 27% said rarely or none of the time (less than 1 day in a week).
Psychological distress in different demographic groups
It is also important to note that the psychological distress of people varies across different demographic groups. About 19% of men and 28% of women experience high distress. People ages 18-29 also experience high distress compared to 25% of 30-49 years old.
A Research America poll of US adults in January 2020 also found that 60% of Americans that public investment in mental health research is not enough and only 25% said it’s the right amount. The CDC notes that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can cause the following: worry and fear about one’s health and the health of loves ones, financial situation, loss of support services they rely on, situation or job, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, changes in eating or sleep patterns, worsening mental health conditions, and increased alcohol use or tobacco use.
It appears that almost all efforts and resources are now geared toward saving lives and mitigating the socio-economic effects of Covid-19. However, we should also give priority to people’s mental health needs.