1 in 3 adults are anxious about COVID-19

psychological distress
© Marian Vejcik

Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School have reported that one in three adults are experiencing psychological distress related to COVID-19, including anxiety and depression

A new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has found that one in three adults are experiencing increased anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and insomnia related to COVID-19.

Professor Tazeen Jafar, from the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS and her team studied 288,830 participants from 19 countries and found that women, younger adults, individuals of lower socioeconomic status, those living in rural areas and those at high risk of COVID-19 infection were more likely to experience psychological distress.

“Understanding these factors is crucial for designing preventive programmes and mental health resource planning during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak,” explained Professor Tazeen Jafar, who led the study. “These factors could be used to identify populations at high risk of psychological distress so they can be offered targeted remote and in-person interventions.”

“The lower social status of women and less preferential access to healthcare compared to men could potentially be responsible for the exaggerated adverse psychosocial impact on women,” the researchers suggested. “Thus, outreach programmes for mental health services must target women proactively.”

Younger adults

The reasons as to why younger adults, aged 35 and under, experience psychological distress are unclear, but previous studies have suggested that it might be due to greater access to COVID-19 information through the media.

“The general public and healthcare professionals need to be aware of the high burden of psychological distress during the pandemic as well as education on coping strategies,” Prof Jafar said. “Patients need to be encouraged to seek help, and access mental health counselling services with appropriate referrals.”

Professor Patrick Casey, Senior Vice-Dean for Research at Duke-NUS, commented, “Even with the tremendous advances on the vaccine front, the world has come to realise that the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for the long haul. Professor Jafar’s study contributes valuable insights on the pandemic’s psychological toll on populations around the world and highlights specific groups who may benefit from additional support, whether that is from their family or a healthcare provider.”


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