A recent survey has linked quarantine orders to increased health anxiety, loneliness, and financial worry in the U.S. population. Interestingly, the survey also found that the perceived impact of COVID-19 was associated with greater social support and a lower level of loneliness. The study was published in Psychiatry Research.
Given the recent emergence of COVID-19, studies on the psychological impact of the outbreak are minimal. However, early studies from China point to increased anxiety, depression, and stress during China’s late January outbreak.
In many countries, unprecedented social distancing measures have been put in place in order to slow the spread of the virus. In the U.S., the majority of states have implemented quarantine orders. Study authors Tull and colleagues express that although these measures are vital for public health, the associated psychological impact is not yet understood. The researchers aimed to assess the impact of quarantine measures as well as the perceived impact of COVID-19 on mental health outcomes in the U.S. population.
An online survey questioned 500 U.S. adults from 45 states who were between the ages of 20 to 74. Subjects completed a unique 20-item measure of “COVID-19 related experiences and stressors” which included an assessment of perceived impact of the virus. Participants were asked, “To what extent has the situation associated with COVID-19 affected the way you live your life?” Subjects also completed assessments of health anxiety, depression, financial worry, perceived social support, and loneliness.
The majority (82%) of respondents reported living in an area with stay-at-home orders currently in place. The quarantine orders had been in place for an average of 5.71 days. Results showed that those under stay-at-home orders showed increased health anxiety, loneliness, and financial worry.
As researchers predicted, the extent to which subjects felt their lives had been affected by the coronavirus was correlated with increased health anxiety and financial worry. Surprisingly, the perceived impact of the pandemic was also associated with increased social support and decreased loneliness.
The researchers say that this finding suggests that “one potential positive outcome of this pandemic may be an increase in social support seeking or connectedness as individuals try to adjust to changes in daily life.” They express that this falls in line with previous research that suggests that the shared experience of the pandemic may lead to increased “closeness and social cohesion (Courtet et al., 2020).”
Level of income was negatively related to health anxiety, financial worry, and loneliness, but positively related to social support. The authors note that low-income individuals may be a group especially at-risk of experiencing negative outcomes during the pandemic and suggest “widespread interventions focused on promoting mental health and well-being (including a sense of connection) among less financially secure individuals.”
The researchers address the limited scope of their study as it captured psychological outcomes only at the early stages of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. They suggest that future studies delve into long-term outcomes as well as possible maladaptive behaviors that might emerge as a result of the pandemic.
While past research suggests that the mental health effects of pandemics tend to decrease with time, the authors suggest this may not be the case with the impact of COVID-19. “Given the relatively high mortality rate associated with COVID-19, the lack of adequate testing in some countries, and the absence of effective pharmaceutical interventions for COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether a similar trajectory will occur with the current pandemic.”
The study, “Psychological Outcomes Associated with Stay-at-Home Orders and the Perceived Impact of COVID-19 on Daily Life”, was authored by Matthew T. Tull, Keith A. Edmonds, Kayla Scamaldo, Julia R. Richmond, Jason P. Rose, and Kim L. Gratz.