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Psychological Distress Increased in U.S. During COVID-19

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 6, 2021 -- The prevalence of serious psychological distress was as high during May 2020 as the past-year prevalence reported in February 2019, according to a study published online Dec. 31 in Preventive Medicine.

Joshua Breslau, Ph.D., Sc.D., from the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, and colleagues examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on psychological distress in a national probability sample of adults in the United States at two time points: February 2019 (T1) and May 2020 (T2). Psychological distress during the worst month during the previous year at T1 was compared to that during the previous 30 days at T2 to identify increases in distress.

The researchers found that the past-month prevalence of serious psychological distress at T2 was as high as T1 past-year prevalence (10.9 versus 10.2 percent). There was a strong correlation noted for psychological distress across assessments. There were correlations seen for psychological distress greater than that in T1 with gender, age, household income, and census region. The number of people experiencing serious psychological distress was equal in 30 days during the pandemic and during an entire year prior to the pandemic.

"Elevated psychological distress has been observed during prior disasters, but it has never before been seen as a persistent and complex stressor affecting the entire U.S. population," Breslau said in statement. "Policymakers should consider targeting services to population groups at high risk for elevated psychological distress during the pandemic, including people vulnerable to the economic consequences of social distancing."

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Posted: January 2021

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