Study: Rise In Depression, Stress Linked To COVID-19 Pandemic And Media Exposure

Young woman with face mask standing by the window.
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According to a new study from the University of California, Irvine the rising levels of depression, stress and anxiety in the United States are directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and exposure to media coverage of the virus.

Published on September 18 in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, the illuminating study was authored by E. Alison Holman, Rebecca R. Thompson, Dana Rose Garfin and Roxane Cohen Silver.

Using the NORC AmeriSpeak panel, the researchers surveyed more than 6,500 Americans in March and April 2020, when the novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly across the nation. This allowed scientists to evaluate the effects of the pandemic in real-time.

Their findings established that secondary stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic — such as job and wage loss — were strong predictors in the development of depressive and stress symptoms. The study also showed that individuals with pre-existing mental and physical health diagnoses were more likely to show these symptoms.

Furthermore, the research indicated that consuming coronavirus-related media content and conflicting information about the virus was a reliably strong predictor in the development of acute anxiety and depression.

According to lead author E. Alison Holman, UCI professor of nursing, the COVID-19 pandemic is “not hitting all communities equally.”

“People have lost wages, jobs and loved ones with record speed. Individuals living with chronic mental and physical illness are struggling,” she said.

Holman stressed that it is critical to promote resilience and support vulnerable populations. She also argued that Americans need to limit the consumption of coronavirus-related content.

“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 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.”

Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science, added that extensive exposure to press coverage of COVID-19 “can be overwhelming and lead to more stress, worry and perceived risks.”

Man wearing face mask using his phone in the dark.
  Engin Akyurt / Pexels

Previous studies have also found that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the spike in psychological problems and disorders.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in which 25 percent of Americans reported depression and 13 percent said they were drinking or taking drugs to cope with the unprecedented crisis.

Eleven percent of respondents — more than a quarter of whom were between 18 and 24 years old — told the CDC that they seriously considered taking their life in the last month.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.