Several studies have shown that the pandemic took a devastating toll on people’s mental health and impacted other psychiatric conditions, but a novel study looked at things from a different perspective.
The investigation, conducted by Yale School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, looked at US nationwide levels of mental health to establish that those with poor mental health prior to the pandemic have a greater likelihood of developing a COVID-19 infection.
Researchers used aggregated data from a survey conducted across 2,839 counties to conclude that between 2010 and 2019, a total of 2,172 counties (77%) experienced significant increases in the average number of poor mental health days, including depression, stress and problems with emotions.
Further research revealed that more days of poor mental health in 2019 had a robust association with the rate of COVID-19 infections in 2020, leading researchers to believe that the pandemic did not cause new mental health problems, but rather revealed previously ignored issues.
Analysis revealed that poorer mental health days and COVID rates were driven by a few states-- Arizona, Montana, and Nevada.
Lead investigator Yusuf Ransome expressed hope that the study will encourage conversation about the urgency of mental health care.
“We call for policies that strengthen surveillance systems to better capture a range of mental health outcomes in the population, address social inequalities that give rise to poor mental health, and [increase] funding to create, sustain and equitably distribute mental health resources, including wellness care centers across US communities," he said.
Ransome added that the idea for the study was inspired by the height of the pandemic.
"Only a handful of studies examining small fragments of the population had considered the possibility that poor mental health could be contributing to a higher burden of infection rather than vice versa," he said. "We wanted to examine whether these relationships also existed in the general population, address the lack of studies with an ecological-level focus, and produce evidence to strengthen calls for interventions.”