Distress in the time of COVID-19: Understanding the distinction between COVID-19 specific mental distress and depression among United States adults

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Abstract

Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have experienced mental distress, which may be partially characterized by a rise in mental illnesses. However, COVID-19 specific psychological distress may also be separate from diagnosable conditions, a distinction that has not been well established in the context of the pandemic. Methods: Data came from an online survey of US adults collected in March 2020. We used factor analysis to assess the relationship between COVID-19 related mental distress and depressive symptoms. Using four questions on psychological distress modified for COVID-19 and eight depressive symptoms, we conducted an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) to identify the factor structure and then estimated a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Results: The EFA model indicated a two-factor solution, where the COVID-19 distress items loaded onto the first factor and depression items loaded onto the second. Only two items cross-loaded between factors: feeling fearful and being bothered by things that do not usually bother the participant. The CFA indicated that this factor structure fit the data adequately (RMSEA=0.106, SRMR=0.046, CFI=0.915, TLI=0.890). Limitations: It is possible that there are additional important symptoms of COVID-19 distress that were not included. Depression symptoms were measured via the CES-D-10, which while validated is not equivalent to a clinician diagnosis. Conclusions: As COVID-19 related mental distress appears to be distinct from, though related to, depression, public health responses must consider what aspects of depression treatment may apply to this phenomenon. For COVID-related distress, it may be more appropriate to treat symptomatically and with supportive psychotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-956
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume294
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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