Two years into the pandemic, research finds that COVID stressors and family health are associated with growing mental health rates in the United States
Since March 2020, the world has endured a hardship most of us never thought we would see in our lifetime. Past pandemics have run rampant, unchecked by vaccines and modern medicine, killing millions upon millions of people before finally being eradicated.
Although death rates are not nearly as high as previous pandemics’, coronavirus (COVID-19) has killed about 6.1 million people as of March 2022—inevitably leaving a trail of life stressors, positive and negative family attitudes, and mental health issues in its wake.
One month into the pandemic, Dr. Ali Crandall, BYU public health professor, teamed up with professors Chantel Daines, Mike Barnes, Carl Hanson, and MPH student Malynne Cottam to look at how a series of stressors caused by COVID-19 were affecting family health and mental health. Their research was published in Families, Systems, & Health, an academic journal published by the American Psychological Association.
A year later, Crandall, Daines, Barnes, and Hanson weren’t satisfied. They wanted to see how COVID-19 has affected individuals and families in these same areas over a longer period of time—but this time, they measured whether COVID-19 stressors and family health were associated with mental health, comparing how they feel currently with how they felt pre-pandemic. This study is now published in the academic journal Family Process.
The stressors measured in this study were identified as: whether an individual had lost employment or income due to COVID-19, whether they had moved due to COVID-19, or whether they had got the respiratory virus itself.
Each family in the research sample indicated whether they saw COVID-19 itself as having a positive or negative meaning for them and their families. Many people said they both enjoyed spending time with their families and that their family was driving them crazy; a sentiment we all may relate to.
The study uses cross-sectional data to determine association. For example, if someone is more anxious and depressed by nature, they might also perceive their family more negatively.
The respondents teach us a valuable lesson about attitude. Dr. Crandall explains, “If you felt like COVID had a positive impact [on your overall well being], then you are less likely to say that [your mental health] got worse.” On the other hand, if you saw COVID-19 as having a negative impact on your family and life, that increased your odds for depression and anxiety by about 80%.
It can be discouraging to see high rates of anxiety and depression; however, Dr. Crandall recommends that we think not only about how we can strengthen ourselves, but also what we can do to strengthen the well being of our families. She encourages us to, “Give [ourselves] and everybody around [us] a little bit of space, a little bit of grace.”