Association between psychological resilience and changes in mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kira E. Riehm, Savannah G. Brenneke, Leslie B. Adams, Donya Gilan, Klaus Lieb, Angela M. Kunzler, Emily J. Smail, Calliope Holingue, Elizabeth A. Stuart, Luther G. Kalb, Johannes Thrul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Psychological responses to potentially traumatic events tend to be heterogeneous, with some individuals displaying resilience. Longitudinal associations between resilience and mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, are poorly understood. The objective of this study was to examine the association between resilience and trajectories of mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Participants were 6,008 adults from the Understanding America Study, a probability-based Internet-panel representative of the US adult population. Baseline data were collected between March 10 and March 31, 2020, with nine follow-up waves conducted between April 1 and August 4. Mixed-effects logistic regression was used to examine the association between date and mental distress, stratified by resilience level (low, normal, or high). Results: In contrast to the high resilience group, participants in the low and normal resilience groups experienced increases in mental distress in the early months of the pandemic (low: OR=2.94, 95% CI=1.93-4.46; normal: OR=1.91, 95% CI=1.55-2.35). Men, middle-aged and older adults, Black adults, and adults with a graduate degree were more likely to report high resilience, whereas adults living below the poverty line were less likely to report high resilience. Limitations: These associations should not be interpreted as causal, and resilience was measured at only one time-point. Conclusions: Trajectories of mental distress varied markedly by resilience level during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with low-resilience adults reporting the largest increases in mental distress during this crisis. Activities that foster resilience should be included in broader strategies to support mental health throughout the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-385
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • COVID-19
  • mental health
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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